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Heflin study on family instability and material hardship published in JF&EI

Aug 3, 2016

Colleen Heflin

Colleen Heflin


This study used longitudinal, nationally representative data from the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation to explore how each of six sources of instability (employment shocks, household formation shocks, residential changes, income changes, household size changes, and disability shocks) impacted the key domains of material hardship (food insecurity and medical, housing and essential expense hardship).

The study found that income shocks and having a person with a disability join the household were the only consistent triggers for all types of material hardship, and that overall, sources of instability had an asymmetrical impact on material hardship; that is, sources of instability did not help households when they were removed as much as they harmed households when introduced. These results provided a nuanced understanding of the household dynamics that result in economic and family instability in the U.S. and provided new evidence regarding why some households were unable to cover basic needs.

Center for Policy Research
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