Early life parental losses and the timing of family formation events in young adulthood

Saunders, Randi Elizabeth
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Demographic differences in patterns of family formation, including the timing of key family formation events such as union formation and the transition to parenthood, are well-documented. These differences reflect and contribute to cycles of inequality through their consequences for educational attainment, family stability, and labor force participation. An under-explored contributor to intergenerational transmission of inequality is differential exposure to early family losses across racial groups. Using data from a nationally representative longitudinal panel study, this paper examines how the loss of a parent prior to age 18 contributes to the timing of key family formation milestones during the transition to adulthood. Results indicate that early parental deaths are significantly associated with changes in the timing of first union formation and the transition to parenthood across racial groups, with maternal deaths strongly contributing to accelerated union formation, particularly among Black Americans.