Family Value

Kevin Lewis

June 12, 2022

The "College Gap" in Marriage and Children's Family Structure
Melissa Schettini Kearney
NBER Working Paper, May 2022 

The share of children living in a two-parent family has declined sharply in the past 40 years, driven by a decline in marriage among parents without a four-year college degree. This paper presents a number of facts about these trends, drawing on US Census data, the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and US vital statistics birth data. First, there is a large gap in the share of children living with married parents (or two parents) that favors the children of college-educated mothers, both overall and within race and ethnic groups. Second, the decline in the share of children living in married parent families primarily reflects an increase in non-marital childbearing, not a rise in divorce. Third, the widening college gap in children's family structure corresponds to a widening college gap in marriage rates, both overall and within race and ethnic groups. The paper briefly discusses evidence suggesting a causal link between the eroding economic position of men without a four-year college degree and their declining marriage rates. Fourth, the rise in the share of children living with an unpartnered mother has happened despite a sizable decrease in births to teens, women in their 20s, and women with less than a high school degree. Fifth, the college gap in family structure has contributed to the widening college gap in household income, accentuating widening earnings inequality. These trends have the potential to exacerbate class gaps in children's outcomes and undermine social mobility.

Illuminating the origins of the intergenerational transmission of psychopathology with a novel genetically informed design
Alexandra Burt, Angus Clark & Jenae Neiderhiser
Development and Psychopathology, forthcoming

Although it is well known that parental depression is transmitted within families across generations, the etiology of this transmission remains unclear. Our goal was to develop a novel study design capable of explicitly examining the etiologic sources of intergenerational transmission. We specifically leveraged naturally-occurring variations in genetic relatedness between parents and their adolescent children in the 720 families participating in the Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development (NEAD) study, 58.5% of which included a rearing stepparent (nearly always a stepfather). Results pointed squarely to the environmental transmission of psychopathology between fathers and children. Paternal depression was associated with adolescent depression and adolescent behavior problems (i.e., antisocial behavior, headstrong behavior, and attention problems) regardless of whether or not fathers and their children were genetically related. Moreover, these associations persisted to a subset of "blended" families in which the father was biologically related to one participating child but not to the other, and appeared to be mediated via father-child conflict. Such findings are not only fully consistent with the environmental transmission of psychopathology across generations, but also add to extant evidence that parent-child conflict is a robust and at least partially environmental predictor of adolescent psychopathology. 

Birth Spacing and Health and Socioeconomic Outcomes Across the Life Course: Evidence From the Utah Population Database
Kieron Barclay & Ken Smith
Demography, June 2022, Pages 1117-1142

The relationship between birth interval length and child outcomes has received increased attention in recent years, but few studies have examined offspring outcomes across the life course in North America. We use data from the Utah Population Database to examine the relationship between birth intervals and short- and long-term outcomes: preterm birth, low birth weight (LBW), infant mortality, college degree attainment, occupational status, and adult mortality. Using linear regression, linear probability models, and survival analysis, we compare results from models with and without sibling comparisons. Children born after a birth interval of 9-12 months have a higher probability of LBW, preterm birth, and infant mortality both with and without sibling comparisons; longer intervals are associated with a lower probability of these outcomes. Short intervals before the birth of the next youngest sibling are also associated with LBW, preterm birth, and infant mortality both with and without sibling comparisons. This pattern raises concerns that the sibling comparison models do not fully adjust for within-family factors predicting both spacing and perinatal outcomes. In sibling comparison analyses considering long-term outcomes, not even the very shortest birth intervals are negatively associated with educational or occupational outcomes or with long-term mortality. These findings suggest that extremely short birth intervals may increase the probability of poor perinatal outcomes but that any such disadvantages disappear over the extended life course. 

Access to Head Start and Maternal Labor Supply: Experimental and Quasi-experimental Evidence
Jocelyn Wikle & Riley Wilson
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming 

We explore how access to Head Start impacts maternal labor supply. By relaxing child care constraints, public preschools like Head Start might lead mothers to reallocate time between employment, child care, and other activities. Using the 1990s enrollment and funding expansions and the 2002 Head Start Impact Study randomized control trial, we show that Head Start increases short-run employment and wage earnings of single mothers without reducing quality parent-child interactions. Even before including long-run benefits to children, the short-run benefit to single mothers and the government is $0.93 per dollar. Head Start is a family-level treatment with impacts beyond children. 

Follow the leader: Maternal transmission of physiological regulatory support to distressed infants in real-time
John Krzeczkowski et al.
Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science, forthcoming

Decades of evidence show that mothers provide emotional scaffolding to regulate their infants during moments of distress and that postpartum depression (PPD) can significantly disrupt this process. However, the mechanisms underlying mother-to-infant transmission of regulatory support in real-time are unclear. Examining these mechanisms is critical to understanding how mothers actively shape infant self-regulatory capacity, as well as how psychiatric risk may be transmitted from mother to child. In 32 healthy mother-infant dyads and 26 dyads affected by PPD (Mage infants = 5.4 months, 40% male), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was acquired simultaneously within dyads on a second-by-second scale during the reunion phase of the still-face task. We examined if the influence of maternal RSA on subsequent infant RSA (measured at the next second) strengthened across the reunion phase. Effects were examined at baseline, then 9 weeks later at a follow-up study visit. Between visits, mothers affected by PPD received 9 weeks of group cognitive behavioral therapy. Among healthy dyads, maternal RSA influenced subsequent decreases in infant RSA, an effect that strengthened across the reunion at both baseline and follow-up visits. In the PPD dyads, this same pattern was also observed, but only at the follow-up visit. Therefore, while mother-to-infant RSA influence patterns differed between healthy and PPD dyads at baseline, the same pattern was observed in both groups at follow-up. This study provides novel evidence for a mechanism that may explain how mothers actively transmit regulatory support to their distressed infants in real-time. 

The effect of learning to drum on behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents
Marie-Stephanie Cahart et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 7 June 2022

This current study aimed to investigate the impact of drum training on behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents with no prior drumming experience. Thirty-six autistic adolescents were recruited and randomly assigned to one of two groups. The drum group received individual drum tuition (two lessons per week over an 8-wk period), while the control group did not. All participants attended a testing session before and after the 8-wk period. Each session included a drumming assessment, an MRI scan, and a parent completing questionnaires relating to the participants' behavioral difficulties. Results showed that improvements in drumming performance were associated with a significant reduction in hyperactivity and inattention difficulties in drummers compared to controls. The fMRI results demonstrated increased functional connectivity in brain areas responsible for inhibitory control, action outcomes monitoring, and self-regulation. In particular, seed-to-voxel analyses revealed an increased functional connectivity in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. A multivariate pattern analysis demonstrated significant changes in the medial frontal cortex, the left and right paracingulate cortex, the subcallosal cortex, the left frontal pole, the caudate, and the left nucleus accumbens. In conclusion, this study investigates the impact of a drum-based intervention on neural and behavioral outcomes in autistic adolescents. We hope that these findings will inform further research and trials into the potential use of drum-based interventions in benefitting clinical populations with inhibition-related disorders and emotional and behavioral difficulties.


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