American Sociological Association

Childhood Family Instability and Young Adult Health

American children live in a variety of family structures throughout their childhoods. Such instability in family arrangements is common and has important demonstrated implications for short-term child outcomes. However, it is not known whether family instability experienced in childhood has enduring health consequences across the life course. Using demographic, social, and biological data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, we investigate the family stress model, testing the relationship between parental family instability in childhood and four biological markers of health in young adulthood. This is the first study to examine whether the accumulation of family change in childhood leaves a lasting physiological residue. While family instability is associated with poorer short-term behavioral and socioeconomic outcomes as documented in previous research, we find no evidence of deleterious young adult health consequences. These findings are robust across different measures of physiological health risk and types of family transitions.

Download PDF


Lauren Gaydosh and Kathleen Mullan Harris





Starting Page


Ending Page