The Effects of Family Structure on Child Wellbeing: An Assessment of Marriage Policy Assumptions

Dohoon Lee, Princeton University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University

With increases in out-of-wedlock childbearing and growing instability in family structure, the consequences of family structure differences have become a more pressing issue. The federal government has funded programs designed to promote marriage and prevent divorce as a way of reducing poverty and improving children’s life chances. Assessments of these policy interventions require a different class of the causal effects of family structure, the average treatment effects for the controls (e.g., the effect of stable marriage for children of divorced mothers). Our study attempts to estimate these effects on child wellbeing by using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and a propensity score weighting method, with close attention to selection bias and causal effect heterogeneity. Results suggest that marriage policy interventions would be more effective, should they be combined with other interventions aimed at improving disadvantaged families’ conditions and develop a clearer understanding of specific family structure contexts facing these families.

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Presented in Session 59: Family Structure and Child Well-Being