The Effects of Partnership Instability on Parenting…

 … and Young Children’s Health and Behavior

Center for Research on Child Wellbeing

Working Paper #2004-16-FF

Cynthia Osborne

Sara McLanahan


We use data from the Fragile Families Study (N = 3317) to document the number of changes in maternal romantic partnerships experienced by children between their birth and age 3, particularly children born to unmarried mothers. We also examine the association between partnership instability and parenting, child health and behavior. We find significantly high levels of partnership instability among children born to unmarried mothers. In addition, partnership instability is negatively associated with parenting, child health, and behavioral problems for children at age 3. Each partnership change has a modest effect on each outcome, yet children who experience several partnership changes are at extreme elevated risks of negative development.


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