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Family Structure and Maternal Health Trajectories.

Publication Year: 
2006
Personal Author: 
Meadows, Sarah O.
McLanahan, Sara S.
Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne
Technical Report
Page Count: 
59

Existing research shows that marriage and marital stability are positively associated with health and well-being. Thus, recent increases in births to unmarried parents and the instability surrounding these relationships raise concerns about the possible health effects associated with changes in family formation. Using latent trajectory models and data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (FFCWS) this paper examines trajectories of mothers' mental and physical health, specifically focusing on transitions into and out of relationships with the child's biological father (n = 2,649). Mothers who remain married to their child's father are in better mental and physical health than continuously cohabiting or continuously single mothers. Among mothers living with the father at birth, exiting a coresidential relationship increases mental health problems and decreases self-rated health. These effects appear to be short-lived, as suggested by stress theory, followed by periods of resilience in the absence of other transitions. Among mothers who are not living with the father, entering a residential relationship improves both mental and physical health, but only prior to the child's first birthday. The implications of these findings for selection and causation arguments, as well as social policies promoting stable healthy unions between non-married parents, are also discussed. (Author abstract)

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