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Family Instability and Children’s Social Development


Family instability refers to changes in parents’ residential and romantic partnerships, such as marriage, divorce, and romantic partners moving in or out of the home. As rates of cohabitation, non-marital births, and divorce have increased over the past 60 years, more children have experienced some degree of family instability. This increase in family instability can have a negative influence on children’s and adolescents’ functioning and behavior.

Not all families have been equally affected by the increase in family instability. Families in which the parents are not married and have low household income are much more likely to experience family instability than families with married parents and higher household income. Family instability influences children and adolescents’ functioning, as do household income and parents’ relationship status. Family stability can promote positive social behavior in children and adolescents, while instability is associated with social maladjustment, including behaviors such as aggression toward peers, teachers, or parents. This brief examines the links between family instability during childhood, relationship status at birth, and household income in adolescence, and social competence and aggression in adolescence.


Source: ChildTrends (2019). Family Instability and Children’s Social Development.