Partnership Instability, School Readiness, and Gender Disparities

Sociol Educ. 2011 Jul;84(3):246-259. doi: 10.1177/0038040711402361.


Trends in family formation during the past several decades have increased children's exposure to mothers' partnership instability, defined as an entrance into or exit from a coresidential union or a dating partnership. Instability, in turn, is associated with negative outcomes for children and adolescents. This study uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine associations between mothers' partnership instability and children's school readiness, differences between coresidential and dating transitions, and the moderating role of child gender. Mothers' partnership transitions are negatively associated with children's verbal ability and positively associated with boys' behavioral problems at age five. In general, coresidential and dating transitions have similar effects on school readiness. The findings have important implications for our understanding of the growing gender gap in educational attainment.