This study examines the association between incarceration and relationship churning.
It is well known that incarceration gives rise to family instability, in the form of relationship dissolution and impaired relationship quality. However, existing research does not consider the repercussions of incarceration for a common, yet understudied, form of family instability—relationship churning (being in an on-again/off-again relationship)—despite good reasons to expect that incarceration may destabilize relationships in this way.
This study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 4060) to examine the association between incarceration and relationship churning.
This study finds that incarceration was positively associated with relationship churning, net of characteristics associated with selection into incarceration. These associations were concentrated among Black parents and those experiencing incarceration for the first time. Supplemental analyses show that both maternal incarceration and paternal incarceration were similarly associated with subsequent relationship churning.
Taken together, the findings suggest the liminal status induced by incarceration may facilitate liminality in family relationships.