Panel Paper: Family Structure Stability and Transitions and Household Food Insecurity

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 2:00 PM
Acoma (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Miller, Boston University and Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Rutgers University
One in five households with children in the US is food insecure, which has serious implications for child and adult well-being. Research points to substantial variation in parental investments, economic security, and well-being across different types of living arrangements, and studies indicate that household food insecurity is high for single mother families and those headed by cohabiting parents. However, recent research suggests that child well-being is affected not only by the type of family structure in which children live, but also by transitions across these different living arrangements. Only one previous study has examined whether family structure transitions are related to food insecurity, finding lower household food insecurity among mothers who transitioned into a union, but this study did not examine child or adult food insecurity separately or the types of family structures mothers were exiting or entering.  

In this paper, we build upon the limited body of previous work in a number of ways. First, we use representative panel data, which allows us to implement models to help account for selection into family structure and transitions. Second, we examine the impact of family structure transitions on both child and adult food insecurity, a potentially important step as parents often act to protect children from food insecurity. Finally, in pooled models, we distinguish among three different types of families: (1) those who are in consistent family structures across the entire panel; (2) those who experience transitions between a given pair of waves; and, (3) those who remain in the same family state for two consecutive waves, but who did or will experience a transition at some other point in the panel. This grouping allows us to identify families who appear stable but may differ from those who were stable across all waves.   

Results from basic analyses indicate that family structure transitions are associated with increased probability of both adult and child food insecurity compared to households where biological parents were stably married across the entire panel. In pooled analyses, we find evidence of statistically significant associations between family structure transitions and both child and adult food insecurity, and some indication that risk for food insecurity is higher for families who are only temporarily stable compared to those who are stable across the entire panel. In supplementary analyses, we find significant interactions between family structure transitions and permanent household income. For example, we find that transitioning from a married-biological parent household to a single mother household is associated with significant 0.066 and 0.105 increases in the probability of child and adult food insecurity for households with average income, impacts that become significantly less pronounced as income increases.  

Overall, our results suggest a relationship between family structure transitions and food insecurity that is more complex than previously understood and underscore the need for policies and programs that help families manage nutritional needs during times of transitions. Our full paper explores the implications of these results as well as possible future directions for research.