Poster Paper: Three Generation Family Households In Early Childhood: Comparisons Between Australia, the UK, and the US

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 12:00 PM
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Natasha Pilkauskas, Columbia University and Melissa Martinson, Princeton University

Families and households today look dramatically different from the typical family 40 years ago. Non-marital childbearing has greatly increased, rates of cohabitation have increased and in the US as many as half of all marriages end in divorce (Martin et al. 2009; Cherlin 2009; McLanahan 2004; Kiernan, McLanahan, Holmes & Wright, 2011). As a result, many children will spend some part of their childhood outside of a married two parent household and a large portion of these children will spend time in a three generation family household, where a grandparent, parent and child coreside. In fact, in the US the percent of children in three generation households has increased from 6% in 2001, to about 8% in 2011 (Kreider & Ellis, 2011; author’s calculations based on CPS) and as many as 60% of children born to single parents reside in a three generation family household over the first 5 years of life (Pilkauskas, 2011).

Despite rising trends in intergenerational coresidence, very little descriptive research has focused on these households. Recent cross national research has documented trends in “accordion families” where adult children return home (Newman, 2012) but no studies of three generation “accordion” families have studied cross national differences. The current study fills that gap by investigating differences in the prevalence of three generation family households in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. We consider variations by immigrant status, race/ethnicity and parent family structure and discuss the impact of social, cultural and political factors in the development of three generation family households.

Prior literature has shown that three generation family households can impact child wellbeing (e.g. Dunifon & Kowleski-Jones, 2007; Deleire & Kalil 2002). Three generation households are most prevalent among poor, minority and immigrant households – where child disparities in academic, health and behavioral outcomes are largest (Rouse, Brooks-Gunn & McLanahan 2005; Kreider & Ellis 2011). Understanding patterns in three generation households and differences between countries is an important next step in elucidating the role of policy and culture in the development of three generation family households.

This study focuses on children in early childhood by documenting the prevalence of three generation family households in three countries using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort for the US, the Millennium Cohort Study for the UK and the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children – Birth Cohort for Australia. We focus on early childhood as research has shown that early experiences can have a lasting impact on educational attainment, health and long term income (Baydar, Brooks-Gunn & Furstenburg 1993; Entwisle, Alexander & Olson 2004; Campbell et al. 2001) and because in early childhood families play a particularly important role in the development of cognitive and social skills as well as physical health (Demo & Cox, 2000) as many have yet to enter school. Preliminary results suggest that approximately 25 percent of US children and 10 percent of British and Australian children live in a three generation family household at some point before age 5.