Genes, Mothers' Relationship Instability, and Children’s Socioemotional Wellbeing

Colter Mitchell, Princeton University

This study addresses the relationship between family instability and child wellbeing by incorporating genetic information. Based on the biological susceptibility hypothesis, we hypothesize that children with particular genetic characteristics are more reactive to their mother’s partnership transitions in influencing child health and wellbeing than other children with different genetic makeup. We utilize data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study (n=1,687) when the children are between the ages of 0-5. We find that that child’s serotonergic genes interact with mother’s relationship transitions to influence internalizing behaviors, and that the child’s dopaminergic genes interact with the mother’s relationship transitions to influence externalizing behaviors. We also find that both the child’s dopaminergic and serotonergic genes are related to pro-social behaviors. These gene-social environment models can differ for boys and girls. These findings suggest that greater integration of social and biological information improves the family instability, child wellbeing, and gene-environment interactions literatures.

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Presented in Session 4: Family Instability: Causes and Consequences I