The sibsize revolution and social inequalities among children in the United States, 1940-2012

Tony Fahey, University College Dublin

This paper points to a sibsize revolution that occurred among children in lower status families in the United States in the closing decades of the twentieth century. It interprets that revolution as a source of social convergence in children’s family contexts that ran counter to trends towards social divergence caused by change in family structure and has implications for how we understand the impact of family change on social inequality. Using micro-data from the Census of Population and Current Population Survey, the paper presents new estimates of differentials in sibsize and family structure by race and maternal education in the United States for the period 1940-2012. The estimates suggest that as the share of lower status children living in mother-headed families rose in the 1970s and 1980s, their average sibsize declined sharply. The paper discusses some substantive and methodological challenges for existing scholarship arising from these cross-cutting movements and points to questions for future research.

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 Presented in Session 78. Family structure