Family Structure Changes and Maternal Health Trajectories

Sarah O. Meadows, Princeton University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University

Recent trends in births to unmarried parents and the instability surrounding their relationships raise concerns about parental and child well-being when these relationships dissolve. Of particular interest is whether families might be better off if parents married, as current government policies suggest. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCWS) we examine trajectories of mental and physical health among mothers, specifically focusing on transitions into and out of residential relationships with the child’s biological father. Mothers who remain married have better mental and physical health than continuously cohabiting or continuously single mothers. For coresident parents at birth, exiting this relationship increases mental health problems and decreases self-rated health. No difference is found for exit from marriage versus exit from cohabitation. For non-residential parents, entering a residential relationship is beneficial for both mental and physical health, but the size of this impact decreases as the child ages.

  See paper

Presented in Session 98: Promoting Healthy Marriages: Can Government Play a Role?