Childhood Family Structure and the Transition to Adulthood

Alicia VanOrman, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Family structure research typically examines single outcomes (e.g., fertility, educational attainment) during young adulthood, while an emerging literature on the ‘transition to adulthood’ views outcomes as a developmental process with significant heterogeneity across individuals. This study links these literatures by investigating family structure as a determinant of the pathway to adulthood with family income as a potential mechanism. The data come from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) and use latent class analysis to model the transition to adulthood. Results suggest family structure differentiates broad types of pathways: nonmarital union formation and childbearing pathways from post-secondary educational attainment or marital family formation pathways. Family income partially mediates the relationship between family structure and the pathway to adulthood for youth originating from marital family structures. Income does not mediate the relationship for youth from nonmarital family structures.

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Presented in Session 106: Implications of Childhood Circumstances for Transitions to Adulthood in the U.S.