Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children

May 18, 2010

Observers have long debated the importance of growing up with two parents for the economic opportunities it may afford children. Previously, the Economic Mobility Project found that while most Americans make more than their parents did in absolute dollars, many others, particularly low-income children, are limited in their ability to climb up the rungs of the income ladder relative to their peers.

An earlier analysis by the Project found that economic mobility is increasingly a “family enterprise” and that children with an absent parent may be at a disadvantage. This report, using a dataset that has tracked parents and their children since the late 1960s, explores the question of how children’s economic mobility, both absolute and relative, may differ based on their parents’ family structure during childhood.

This paper investigates how mobility rates of children whose mothers were continuously married differ from those of children of divorced mothers, and from those of children born to unmarried mothers.

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