Family structure instability, genetic sensitivity and child wellbeing

Colter Mitchell, Sara McLanahan, John Hobcraft, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Irwin Garfinkel, Dan Notterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The association between family structure instability and children’s life chances is well documented, with children reared in stable, two-parent families experiencing more favorable outcomes than children in other family arrangements. This study examines father household entrances and exits, distinguishing between the entrance of a biological father and a social father and testing for interactions between family structure instability and children’s age, gender, and genetic characteristics. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and focusing on changes in family structure by age (years 0–9), the authors show that father exits are associated with increases in children’s antisocial behavior, a strong predictor of health and well-being in adulthood. The pattern for father entrances is more complicated, with entrances for the biological father being associated with lower antisocial behavior among boys and social father entrances being associated with higher antisocial behavior. Child’s age does not moderate the association; however, genetic information in the models sharpens the findings substantially.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1195-1225
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican journal of sociology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • family structure
  • genetic sensitivity
  • Child well-being

Cite this