More and more children do not grow up in traditional nuclear families. Instead they grow up in single parent households or in families with a step-parent. For example, in 1980, almost 83% of all Danish children in the ages 0 to 17 lived with both of their parents, but this number steadily decreased to 73% in 2005. Hence it is important to improve our understanding of the impact of "shocks" in family structure due to parental relationship dissolution on children. International studies mainly suggest a negative relationship between non-nuclear family structure and child outcomes. There are two potential explanations for this. First, families that split up may possess characteristics that are different (and worse) than what is seen in nuclear families, i.e. non-nuclear families are a selected group of families. Studies pointing in this direction are Björklund and Sundström (2006) and Björklund, Ginther and Sundström (2007). Another explanation is that there may be negative causal effects of separation as found by Ermisch and Francesconi (2001). In this current study I empirically test whether children are traumatized both in the short and the long run by shocks in the family structure during childhood. I focus on educational, behavioral and health outcomes and investigate both the selection and causation explanations. For the estimations I use a Danish administrative register dataset with the full population of children born in January to May 1983, 1984, and 1985. I find a clear negative relation between family structure changes and children's outcomes. Children who have experienced family structure changes during childhood seem to have worse educational outcomes and a higher propensity to being hospitalized and convicted of a crime. The children in the dataset experience up to 13 family structure changes during childhood. More family structure changes implies worse outcomes and might actually be more important than the number of years a child has spent in a single parent household. The age at which the family structure change occurs also seems to be important at least for some outcomes.
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Conference on Non-cognitive Skills: Acquisition and Economic Consequences, 2009