The Great Recession, Family Functioning and Child Well-being

Project Date:
Nov 2012
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
The Social and Economic Effects of the Great Recession

Irwin Garfinkel will study the short-run effects of the Great Recession on family functioning and child well-being.

One of the most significant concerns about the long-term consequences of the Great Recession and its prolonged aftermath is the possible effects on families and children. These concerns are especially germane for the most economically disadvantaged families, those with the fewest resources to buffer the devastations wrought by the economic downturn. Families experience increased economic instability during recessions largely due to job loss or reduced work hours. This results in greater economic distress and material hardship, especially for those who are already struggling financially. Given the depth of employment loss in the Great Recession, and the extended anemic recovery, there are important unanswered questions about how the recession has affected families and children. Which families experienced greater material hardship and what measures did they take to cope? Did public and private transfers increase or decrease during the recession, and to what effect? How were the quality and stability of family relationships affected by increased economic distress? How did such distress affect physical and mental health?

Professor Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia University, and his collaborators – Janet Currie, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Kristen Harknett, Sara McLanahan, Ronald Mincy, Daniel Schneider, and Jane Waldfogel – propose to exploit the strengths of one of the key data sources for information on families to investigate the impact of the recession on five key areas of family and child well-being – family economic resources, adult health, family structure and relationships, mother and father parenting, and child health and well-being. The major focus is on understanding the associations between aggregate unemployment and the five main dependent outcomes. The investigators will start by simply examining the variation in association between unemployment and outcomes disaggregated by key variables such as child gender and age, mother’s education, income and parent’s relationship status. They will next estimate reduced form associations between aggregate employment and the key outcomes using a variety of random and fixed effects models, and testing the random effects model against the fixed effects specifications to see which fits the data better. These models will help sort out whether there are negative effects of higher unemployment on child development, and on each of the four types of family resources that are theorized to influence child development: economic, parental relationships, parent health, and parenting. Each of these has been identified as key pathways through which aggregate unemployment is hypothesized to affect child well-being. These analyses will allow the investigators to identify which are important channels and which pathways are unaffiliated with aggregate unemployment and unlikely to play an important role in the link between unemployment and child well-being.


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