Family Income Instability and Child Socioemotional Development
Smith, Margaret E.
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This dissertation examines the income dynamics of families over time, and explores how those dynamics influence children’s socioemotional development. I focus on the unexpected shocks to family incomes, which provides a nuanced lens on how family income shapes children’s socioemotional development. I suggest that the particular experience of family income instability has a negative effect on children, and predicts increased rates of problematic internalizing and externalizing behaviors. I use the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics for these analyses. The family instability theory suggests that changes in family structure represent significant transitions for children. These transitions disrupt family function, and have negative effects on children’s emotional development, especially when they are unexpected (Fomby and Cherlin 2007, Amato 2005). I suggest that unexpected changes in household income create a similar experience for children, and will have similar negative effects on socioemotional development. I use ordinary least squares regression models to establish the association between income instability and child outcomes. Then, I analyze the data using fixed effects regression models to explore the causal link between income instability and child outcomes. However, I suggest that this relationship is mediated by parenting variables. Non-material parenting variables, such as parental warmth and the quality of the parent-child relationship influence children’s socioemotional development, and economic distress is linked to diminished quality of parenting (Gershoff et al, 2007; Guo and Harris 2000). I posit that the experience of income instability will create a similar stress for parents, and that parenting variables will mediate the relationship between family income instability and child socioemotional outcomes. I use a path model to explore this mediating role of parenting.