The impact of family complexity on social and emotional difficulties in early childhood

Judit Monostori , Hungarian Demographic Research Institute
Laura Szabó, Hungarian Demographic Research Institute
Krisztina Kopcsó, Hungarian Demographic Research Institute

Numerous studies have examined how family structure influences children’s social-emotional outcomes. However, many studies use a simplistic approach to family structure that doesn’t take into account the composition of siblings and doesn’t consider the complexity of the family from the child's perspective. In our research we tried to capture the complexity of family arrangements. We hypothesised that there would be significant differences in children's outcomes across these categories of family complexity. However, it was also assumed that selection effects and other indicators of parenting could explain the associations. The dependent variable of our study is social-emotional difficulties (measured by the SDQ) at the age of 3. Our data come from wave 1-3 of the longitudinal birth cohort study Cohort’18 Growing Up in Hungary (N=5862). Bivariate analysis shows that a higher proportion of children living in non-intact families have social-emotional difficulties. In addition, among children who lived with both biological parents, the risk of social-emotional difficulties was significantly higher among those who lived with a half/step-sibling than among those who lived in a full-biological family. However, we also found a strong selection effect, which means that the parents with lower SES are over-represented among the non-intact families. This partly explains the association between family complexity and child outcomes. In addition, the quality of the relationship between the parents, the subjective well-being of the mothers and the income situation of the family also affect children’s social-emotional difficulties. After controlling for all these factors, only children in single-parent families are at higher risk.

See paper

 Presented in Session 40. Flash Session Family Effects on Children