Abstract

With the rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce in the last quarter of the twentieth century, an increasing proportion of children have been exposed to a variety of new family forms. Little research has focused on the consequences of childhood family structure for men’s transition to fatherhood or on the family processes that account for the effects of family structure on the likelihood that young women and men become first-time unmarried parents, what we now call “fragile families.” The data come from the linked Children and Young Adult samples of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), which provide information on the children of the women of the NLSY79 from birth until they enter young adulthood. Females growing up with a single parent and males experiencing an unstable family transition to parenthood early, particularly to nonresidential fatherhood for males. For males, the effects are strongly mediated by parenting processes and adolescent behaviors and are shaped by economic circumstances. Having experienced multiple transitions as a child is associated with a reduced likelihood that males father their first child within marriage and an increased likelihood that they become fathers within cohabitation, demonstrating how changes in family structure alter family structure patterns over time and generations.

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