Experiences of Doubling-Up Among American Families With Children
AbstractFacing rising rents and economic insecurity, many American families live “doubled-up” in extended households. Households are considered doubled-up if they contain any adults besides the householder and her romantic partner. This dissertation examines the experience and effects of living doubled-up on families with children and highlights variation within this broad category. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of this common alternative housing arrangement, and it contributes theoretical insights to the literatures on social support activation and complex family/household relationships.
The first empirical chapter draws on in-depth interview data from 33 parents who doubled-up in someone else’s home to examine how parents who double-up as guests understand and evaluate their housing options. I find that parents assess the quality of the support itself, their relationship with the provider and other household members, and the conditions attached to the support when considering whether a specific source of support is a desirable, or even available, option. This chapter identifies difficult trade-offs that parents using the private housing safety net often face and provides a framework for understanding instrumental support activation decisions. Chapter two draws on data from 60 householders and guests to examine how families negotiate and contest economic arrangements within extended households. I find that guests frequently contribute towards household expenses, making doubling-up a form of social support that often benefits hosts as well as guests, but successful intra-household economic exchange depends on household members having a common understanding of the meanings behind exchanges. Disputes about economic arrangements reveal disagreements over the social meanings of household relationships and help explain the instability of double-ups. The final analysis uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and Child and Youth Adult surveys to estimate the cumulative effects on young adult health and educational attainment of childhood years spent in three doubled-up household types: 1) those formed with children’s grandparent(s), 2) those formed with children’s adult sibling(s), and 3) those formed with other extended family or non-kin. I find that the effects vary depending on the relationships between household members and conclude that the study of family complexity can be enriched by considering co-residence with adults beyond the nuclear family. Together, these chapters strengthen our understanding of this common private housing safety net and demonstrate the importance of considering heterogeneity in the experience and effects of living in doubled-up households.
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