Family structure and young adult health outcomes

Alexander N. Slade, Andrea H. Beller, Elizabeth T. Powers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research finds adverse effects of nontraditional family structures on cognitive and educational outcomes, but less is known about potential impacts on health. We use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine two health statuses (self-reported overall health and depression) and one health behavior (smoking), estimating both static logit models of point-in-time health and discrete-time hazard models of health transitions. Overall, we find adverse associations between nontraditional family structures and health statuses and behavior. There are long-lasting associations of family structure with outcomes well into adulthood, not all of which are evident in adolescence. Dynamic estimates often inform but also provide new information not seen in the static model. “Unpacking” the family structure variables by period of childhood provides insight into how the timing of family break-ups affects the life trajectories of health and health behavior. Our findings differ remarkably by gender. Girls’ health appears more sensitive to family structure than boys’. In combination with prior findings in the literature, our findings intriguingly suggest that family break-ups and changes affect boys mostly through cognitive, educational, and emotional channels, while girls are most affected in their health and health behaviors. A major methodological contribution of this study is better measurement of family structure. We find that many adverse associations are masked by cruder measures in typical use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-197
Number of pages23
JournalReview of Economics of the Household
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Adolescent health
  • Discrete-time hazard models
  • Family structure
  • National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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