Christina J. Cross

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

About Christina

Cross’ research falls at the intersection of families, race/ethnicity, and social inequality. Her work examines how family structure, change, and dynamics influence individual wellbeing across the life course, particularly among minority and/or low-income populations. Cross has over a decade of experience working with nonprofits in the areas of education, democracy, and social inequality. She has worked as a researcher for the National Center for Institutional Diversity and a facilitator for Citizen Detroit, a local non-profit focused on promoting civic engagement.


The Myth of the Two-Parent Home


"Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Association Between Family Structure and Children's Education" (forthcoming).

Investigates an important and unexplained finding: although children raised by both biological parents tend to fare better academically than children raised in any other family structure, living apart from a biological parent is less negatively consequential for racial/ethnic minority children than white children. Finds that differences in access to socioeconomic resources largely explain racial differences in the effect of family structure on children's education. Finds when children experience greater socioeconomic hardship throughout childhood, as was the average experience of children of color in this national study, family structure exerts less relative influence on their wellbeing. Notes contemporary social welfare policy emphasizes the importance of the two-parent family in promoting child wellbeing. Finds if racial/ethnic differences in socioeconomic resources mediate the relationship between family structure and children's educational outcomes, then what deserves policy attention is not minority families’ deviation from the two-parent family model, but rather the social structures that produce and maintain racialized socioeconomic inequalities.

"Parents Who Left College and Children's Postsecondary Educational Attainment" (with Paula Fomby). Sociological Forum 33, no. 4 (December 2018): 923-949.

Notes more than one in five U.S. adolescents lives in a household where at least one parent attended college but neither parent holds a college degree. Considers how cultural and economic resources in these college leaver families enables or constrains young adults’ educational pathways. Finds that greater access to resources in college leaver households increases the likelihood that young adults will enroll in college. Finds, however, youth from college leaver families are no more likely to finish college than are their peers whose parents never attended. Notes that while they are not uniformly regarded as first-generation college students in research, policy, and practice, these students may experience similar challenges with respect to college completion. Finds these students and the institutions where they enroll may benefit from targeted strategies to capitalize on the relatively high rates of enrollment among children of college leavers to ensure that they have adequate academic preparation, financial resources, and support to persist to college completion.

"Beyond the Nuclear Family: Trends in Children Living in Shared Households" (with Natasha V. Pilkauskas). Demography 55, no. 6 (December 2018): 2283-2297.

Examines trends in U.S. children living in shared households (living with adults beyond their nuclear family). Finds that the percent of children who lived in a shared household increased dramatically over the last two decades, and this rise was nearly entirely driven by an increase in three-generation/multigenerational households. Observes given the substantial growth in three-generation households, more research is needed to understand the consequences of these living arrangements for children, their parents, and their grandparents.

"Family Social Support Networks of African American and Black Caribbean Adolescents" (with Robert Joseph Taylor and Linda M. Chatters). Journal of Child and Family Studies 27, no. 9 (September 2018): 2757-2771.

Notes although family social support has been linked to numerous psychological, behavioral, and academic outcomes for Black adolescents, little research investigates the family support networks of these youths. Examines the frequency of instrumental and emotional support provided by and offered to adolescents and the sociodemographic and family predictors of this support. Finds that both African American and Black Caribbean adolescents provide and receive a substantial amount of support from family, though there is significant variation by age, gender, income, ethnicity, region, and country of origin within and across these populations. Finds subjective family closeness was related to both the receipt and provision of support.

"Instrumental Social Support Exchanges in African American Extended Families" (with Ann W. Nguyen, Linda M. Chatters, and Robert Joseph Taylor). Journal of Family Issues 39, no. 13 (September 2018): 3535-3563.

Examines the types and frequency of instrumental support that African Americans exchange with extended family members as well as the predictors of these exchanges. Finds that respondents most frequently gave support to and received support from family members during illness episodes, followed by financial support, help with chores, and transportation assistance. Finds support exchanges are patterned by frequency of family contact, feelings of closeness, financial and social resources, gender roles, and regional differences. Observes given the persistently low average household incomes and family wealth of African American families, information on instrumental family support is critical for understanding how and why families allocate resources and function as safety nets to their members.

"Extended Family Households among Children in the United States: Differences by Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status" Population Studies 72, no. 2 (2018): 235-251.

Examines the prevalence and predictors of extended family households among children in the United States and explores variation by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES). Finds that contrary to academic and popular perception, extended family households are relatively common: one in three children spend time living in an extended family during childhood, and there are substantial differences by race/ethnicity and SES. Shows that the transition into an extended family is largely a response to social and economic need.