Christine Percheski

Assistant Professor of Sociology


Sociologist Christine Percheski’s research is focused on family demography, social inequality, and health policy. She studies the correlation between family characteristics, employment, and social inequality with a particular focus on American women and families with children. Her past work has investigated how changes in family characteristics are associated with the rise in income inequality in the U.S., whether becoming a father affects employment differently for married and unmarried men, as well as how the employment patterns of new mothers vary by their partner status. She has also investigated the employment patterns of college-educated professional women and the so-called “opt-out phenomenon,” finding that women of Generation X with young children have higher full-time employment rates than previous cohorts of American women.  

Percheski’s research has been published in such journals as the American Sociological Review, Journal of Marriage and Family, and Social Science & Medicine. Prior to coming to Northwestern, Percheski was a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University.

Current Research 

Economic Inequality among American Children. This NSF-funded project with Duke University Professor Christina Gibson-Davis maps the rise in economic inequality among families with children in the United States with the goals of understanding how family income and wealth vary by key characteristics of families, such as whether families include one or two parents and, if two parents, whether the parents are married, and how these associations have changed over time. This project examines factors that have not been fully explored in previous research, including changes in resources that families receive from government programs and tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Their results will help social scientists understand how changes in American families are related to growing income and wealth inequality, and whether changes in government programs and taxes are widening economic inequalities among children. 

First Birth Timing and Educational Attainment. With IPR graduate research assistant Yu-Han Jao, Percheski has started a project on the timing of first birth that compares women born in 1957–64 with those born in 1980–84. They find that overall, women born in the 1980s completed more years of education than those born in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Looking at women who had their first child in their teens or early 20s, they observe that women born in the 1980s had less completed education than similar women in the older cohort. Part of this is explained by differences in the characteristics of women who had a baby at an earlier age, like their socioeconomic background, but easily measured family characteristics or aptitude measures do not account for the full disparity.

Health Insurance Complexity Within Families and Healthcare Utilization. This project with Rutgers University professor Sharon Bzostek looks at health insurance coverage patterns among American families with children and how these patterns are related to health care utilization. The researchers are analyzing linked data from the National Health Interview Survey and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. New findings from this project suggest that children with public insurance (Medicaid and SCHIP) have different patterns of healthcare utilization and fewer unmet healthcare needs than their siblings without insurance. Families also spend less money getting healthcare for publicly-insured children compared with either privately-insured or uninsured children.

The Great Recession and Fertility Rates. Percheski is also examining the effects of the Great Recession, which started in late 2007, on U.S. family life and fertility rates using restricted access data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Evidence from previous recessions suggests that fertility declines might result from poor economic conditions, especially high unemployment. Percheski and her colleagues want to understand if the recession affected fertility differently for unmarried cohabiting women than for married or unmarried single women. The investigators anticipate that their findings will lead to a better understanding of how economic forces influence families. They also hope that such results can assist policymakers when planning policies to help alleviate poverty, support work, and offer family planning services in times of recessions.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Percheski, C., and R. Kimbro. 2017. Deciding to wait: Partnership status, economic conditions, and pregnancy during the Great RecessionSociological Science 4:176–95.

Bzostek, S., and C. Percheski. 2016. Children living with uninsured family members: Differences by family structure. Journal of Marriage and Family 78(5): 1208–23.

Percheski, C., and S. Bzostek. 2013. Health insurance coverage within sibships: Prevalence of mixed coverage and associations with health care utilizationSocial Science & Medicine 90:1–10.

McCall, L., and C. Percheski. 2010. Income inequality: New trends and research directionsAnnual Review of Sociology 36: 329–47.

Wildeman, C., and C. Percheski. 2010. Associations of childhood religious attendance, family structure, and nonmarital fertility across cohortsJournal of Marriage and Family 71(5): 1294–308.

Percheski, C. 2008. Opting out? Cohort differences in professional women’s employment rates from 1960 to 2005American Sociological Review 73(3): 497–517.

McLanahan, S., and C. Percheski. 2008. Family structure and the reproduction of inequalitiesAnnual Review of Sociology 34: 257–76.

Western, B., D. Bloome, and C. Percheski. 2008. Inequality among American families with children: 1975–2005American Sociological Review 73(6): 903–20.