Theses Doctoral

Three-Generation Family Households and Child Wellbeing

Pilkauskas, Natasha Vanessa

The skills acquired in the first few years of life are critical in preparing children for school and for long term development. Families play a primary role in the development of cognitive and social skills as well as physical health. Changes in family structure that have occurred over the last several decades have resulted in fewer children growing up in a two parent married household; however, few children are raised by just one parent. Many children spend time in a three-generation family household, in which a grandparent, parent and child coreside. To date, little research has described the prevalence or correlates of three-generation family households or looked at the association between three-generation family coresidence and child wellbeing during early childhood. To fill this gap in the literature this dissertation was structured around three empirical chapters (papers) and the findings from those studies are described below. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 4,898), Chapter 2 investigates how the share, correlates, transition patterns, and duration of three-generation households vary by mother's relationship status at birth. Nine percent of married mothers, 17% of cohabiting mothers, and 45% of single mothers live in a three-generation family household at the time of the child's birth. Incidence over time is much higher and most common among single-mother households: Sixty percent live in a three-generation family household at least 1 wave. Economic need, culture, and generational needs are associated with living in a three-generation household; correlates vary by mother's relationship status. Three-generation family households are short lived, and transitions are frequent. Kin support through coresidence is an important source of support for families with young children and in particular families in which the parents are unwed at the time of their child's birth. Chapter 3 investigates to what extent stable and unstable three-generation family households (grandparent, parent, child) are associated with child health, socioemotional and academic wellbeing over the first three years of a child's life. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N=4,009) differences in the association by mother's relationship status and race/ethnicity are investigated. Results suggest stable three-generation family households are associated with child wellbeing whereas unstable or transitory three-generation households are not. Living in a stable three-generation family household is protective against child behavior problems for married families but detrimental for single or Black mothers. Stable three-generation coresidence is associated with higher PPVT scores but also higher odds of being overweight for some groups. Using nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort (N~10,700), Chapter 4 investigates the associations between stable and unstable (or transitory) three-generation coresidence over the first five years of life and school readiness, and how those associations vary by race/ethnicity. With a few exceptions, the findings suggest that three-generation family coresidence is not associated with cognitive development, psychomotor development, or physical health. However, coresidence with a grandparent is associated with a higher likelihood of obesity across all race/ethnicities, as well as more externalizing behavior for Whites and less externalizing behavior for Hispanics. Although differences between stable and unstable coresidence are mostly insignificant, stability appears to matter for behavior, but in different ways for Black and Asian children. Black children who unstably coreside and Asian children who stably coreside with a grandparent experience more internalizing and less prosocial and positive learning behaviors.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Waldfogel, Jane
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 23, 2012