NPC Working Paper #05-27
Economic Conditions and Children's Living Arrangements
Rebecca A. London, Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community, University of California, Santa Cruz and National Poverty Center; Robert W. Fairlie Department of Economics University of California, Santa Cruz and National Poverty Center
Household and family living arrangements have become increasingly visible in public policy discussions, especially with the passage of the landmark Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). The law, which responded to a trend of rising rates of childbirth outside of marriage, emphasizes the reinforcement of marriage as the preferred arrangement for families with children. PRWORA also attempts to influence children's living arrangements in another way, mandating multi-generational households for teen parents who have not completed high school. Although the population of teen parents receiving welfare is small, the focus on their living arrangements signals policymakers' interest in shaping living arrangements beyond marriage.
The law's primary focus on marriage was partly motivated by the disconcerting finding that children who grow up with a single parent fare worse later in life than those growing up with married parents (McLanahan and Sandefur 1994). Even after controlling for income and other intervening factors, children living with single parents have worse educational and family formation outcomes than those living with two parents or with step-parents. Children of divorced parents similarly fare worse than those in intact families on these and other measures (Amato 2000; Seltzer 1994).