Maternal Education, Family Structure, and the Diverging Destinies of Children

Jennifer M. Augustine, Rice University

Building on McLanahan’s (2004) “diverging destinies” model, this study highlights the interconnection of mothers’ family structure and educational pathways in shaping children’s achievement trajectories. Investigation draws on data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (n = 1,308) and a longitudinal mediated moderation model that considers how such linkages connect through parental investments during two key developmental stages that center around children’s transition into elementary school. Results reveal that socioeconomic differences in children’s achievement were driven mainly by the congruence between nonmarital fertility/family structure instability and lower levels of maternal education. The connection between stable marriage to the biological father and higher levels of maternal education, on the other hand, did not widen such differences. These linkages had the greatest influence on mothers’ parenting during the period leading up to the start of formal schooling. Implications for the diverging destinies phenomenon are discussed.

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Presented in Session 184: Family Structure and Child Well-Being