Childhood Family Instability and Union Formation During Early Adulthood
Deirdre Bloome1, Paula Fomby1, Yang Zhang1
1University of Michigan
Today's young adults experience diverse union formation trajectories. Family instability, or repeated changes in family structure during childhood, offers one explanation for why some young adults are more likely than others to enter unions early, form multiple unions, and dissolve early unions. Using a novel data source to measure family change in childhood, we evaluate the family instability hypothesis to explain union formation for black and white young adults, using rigorous causal inference methods to account for unobserved heterogeneity and time-varying selection. Despite experiencing more family instability as children, black young adults are less likely to form unions and black women are less likely to enter new unions following dissolution compared to their white peers. These results, based on Panel Study of Income Dynamics data on young adults born 1989-1999, cast doubt on the generalizability of the family instability hypothesis to explain variation in young adults' union formation.