Social Background Differences in Early Family Behavior


  • This article was edited by Jay Teachman.

Department of Sociology and Population Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802 (


Social background has historically been recognized as a major factor influencing family behavior, though recent work has largely emphasized racial/ethnic influences. Here we use 1994 – 1995 and 2001 – 2002 Add Health data to examine the cohabitation, first marriage, and first birth experience of young women. In a multistate life table context, hypothetical cohorts specified in terms of race and mother’s education are followed, from age 11 to age 24, as they move through 6 family-related statuses. The results indicate that, for both Black and White women, a higher level of maternal education is generally associated with less cohabitation, less marriage, fewer first births, and a higher percentage of women who experience none of those transitions before age 24. Racial and social background differences are conceptually and empirically distinct. Because mother’s education is associated with substantially different trajectories of early family behavior for both Blacks and Whites, we argue that social background merits increased attention in research on contemporary American family patterns.