Working Papers

Family Structure and Youths’ Outcomes

Which Correlations are Causal?


Growing up in a family that lacks a biological father is correlated with a number of poor outcomes for youths. This study uses the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988 (NELS) to examine the extent to which the apparent effects of divorce or remarriage are not causal, but are due to pre-existing problems or advantages of the family or youth. We find that the correlations between family structure and youth outcomes are causal: neither divorce nor remarriage appear to be related to pre-existing characteristics of the youth or family. Finally, unlike some previous research, we do not find gender differences in the effects of the presence of a father or stepfather.