Family Instability and Adolescent Educational Success: The Cumulation and Timing of Family Transitions across Childhood

Holly Heard, Rice University

This study examines the impact of transitions between family types on math and science course taking, cumulative grade point average, and high school completion. I find evidence for the impact of family instability only in models predicting whether adolescents pass Algebra II and chemistry, and fit statistics confirm the contribution of instability measures relative to a baseline status model. However, no transition measures make a significant contribution to model fit when predicting cumulative GPA or high school completion. Moreover, I find little evidence that the impact of family instability depends on the number or timing of transitions. Overall, findings suggest that family transitions may have a greater impact on whether adolescents take college-preparatory courses that become more optional toward the end of the high school career, but may be less likely to derail cumulative processes like grade achievement or graduation that are shaped starting at the beginning of high school.

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