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Complex Households: How Doubling Up Shapes Family Life

About 11 million children in the U.S. live in doubled-up households, sharing space with extended family or friends. Today, this arrangement is a standard household form for children, more common than residing with either cohabiting parents or stepparents. Nearly half of the nation’s children double up at some point during childhood, and lower-income, non-white, and unmarried parent families live doubled-up at particularly high rates. How do families with children come to live doubled-up? How does living in these households shape their daily lives? And how do families fare after leaving these arrangements? Drawing on data from repeated, in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation with a uniquely diverse sample of families with young children, Complex Households: How Doubling Up Shapes Family Life provides the first comprehensive portrait of how families with children experience doubled-up households. Doubled-up households provide a broader safety net than typically recognized, but doubling up often also injects uncertainty into daily life and provides an imperfect and insufficient solution to families’ needs. While acknowledging the crucial support doubling up can provide, the book identifies the limitations of doubled-up households and the unintended consequences of policy decisions that leave families reliant on the private safety net.