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Statistical Brief: When Families Break Up

Report Number SB/92-12

Economic stress can be a factor in the breakup of families. When families fall apart, low income and unemployment are often part of the picture. This brief examines family breakup and tries to answer the following questions:

  • How many families discontinue over a two-year period?
  • How much do assorted economic and demographic factors affect the chances of a two-parent family breaking up?
  • Do many poor single mothers who recently formed their own households come from households where they were already poor?
  • Of all the families (with children) that became poor during a year, how many of them were formed recently?

This brief concentrates on two types of families: two-parent families (married-couple households with children), and mother-child families (households maintained by a single mother living with her children). Data come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which gathers information from a sample of families over a period of time (a panel).

Two-year family changes are estimated by combining results from the 1984 and 1985 SIPP panels, which cover two different biennial periods between December 1983 and April 1987. One-year changes are estimated by combining results from the 1984-1987 SIPP panels, which cover four different annual periods between December 1983 and April 1988.


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