Natasha Pilkauskas


My research considers how demographic, social safety net, and economic shifts in the U.S. affect low-income families with children. With graduate training in social policy, I use quantitative analytic techniques to study low-income families, drawing from the theories, concepts, and methods of social demography, developmental psychology/child development, economics, and family sociology. I publish in journals that reach a variety of audiences, use a wide range of large-scale datasets, and draw on methodological techniques from several disciplines. The goal of my research is to consider how public policy can improve the lives of low-income people, and in particular children.

My research falls into four broad areas: 1) Children's living arrangements: household sharing, multigenerational families and grandfamilies, 2) Economic insecurity and the wellbeing of low-income families, 3) Refundable tax credits and the social safety net, and 4) Family processes among economically vulnerable families.

Children's Living Arrangements

To create effective programs and policies that support children, it is essential to understand who is in the household and the role that household members play in children’s lives. Despite many studies that have focused on nuclear family change over the last several decades, shared living arrangements have been largely overlooked. Much of my scholarship has been devoted to a better understanding of children’s shared living arrangements and in particular multigenerational households. My work has shown that although children's shared living arrangements have increased over the last few decades, most of the growth has been among multigenerational households. Many more children live with non-nuclear family members, especially grandparents, than was previously thought and these household have been increasing in prevalence since the 1980s.

Publications Related to Children's Living Arrangements

Published Work

Harvey, H.*, Dunifon, R. & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2021). Under whose roof? Understanding the living arrangements of children in doubled-up households. Demography 58, 821-846.

Pilkauskas, N.V., Amorim, M.*, & Dunifon, R. (2020). Historical trends in children living in multigenerational households in the United States: 1870-2018. Demography.

Pilkauskas, N.V. & Cross, C.* (2018). Beyond the nuclear family: Trends in children living in shared households. Demography, 55, 2283-2297 .

Amorim, M.*, Dunifon, R. & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2017). The magnitude and timing of grandparental coresidence during childhood in the U.S. Demographic Research, 37, 1695-1706.

Pilkauskas, N.V. & Dunifon, R. (2016). Understanding grandfamilies: Characteristics of grandparents, non-resident parents and children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 623-633.

Pilkauskas, N.V. (2014). Living with a grandparent and a parent in early childhood: Associations with school readiness and differences by demographic characteristics. Developmental Psychology, 50, 2587-2599.

Pilkauskas, N.V., Garfinkel, I. & McLanahan, S.S. (2014). The prevalence and economic value of doubling up. Demography, 51, 1667-1676.

Pilkauskas, N.V. (2014). Breastfeeding initiation and duration in coresident grandparent, mother and infant households. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 18, 1955-1963.

Pilkauskas, N.V. & Martinson, M. L. (2014). Three-generation family households in early childhood: Cross-national comparisons between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Demographic Research, 30, 1639-1652.

Pilkauskas, N.V. (2012). Three-generation family households: Differences by family structure at birth. Journal of Marriage and Family, 5, 931-943.

Work in Progress

Economic Insecurity and the Wellbeing of Low-Income Families

Shedding light on both the consequences and roots of families’ inabilities to meet basic and essential needs is critical for developing ways to further reduce poverty and hardship. A number of my studies have focused on the implications, and drivers, of the experience of material hardship - a consumption-based indicator of economic wellbeing that measures concrete adversities such as having going hungry, having utilities shut off, avoiding medical care when needed, or not paying bills. A second strand of my research on economic insecurity focuses on the effects of the Great Recession on low-income families. My research shows that the Great Recession hit groups who were more economically vulnerable hardest (e.g., single mothers, those without college degrees) and likely exacerbated stratification across groups. Lastly, I study employment among low-income mothers, those who are likely to face unstable, low-intensity, or poor quality employment - to consider its impacts on families and children.

Image: Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Publications Related to Economic Insecurity

Published Work

Bruns, A.* & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2020). Juggling jobs and kids: Maternal multiple job holding and children’s socioemotional behavior in early childhood. Community Work and Family.

Bruns, A.* & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2019). Multiple job-holding and mental health among low-income mothers. Women's Health Issues, 29, 205-212.

Pilkauskas, N.V., Brooks-Gunn, J. & Waldfogel, J. (2018). Maternal employment stability in early childhood: Links with child behavior and cognitive skills. Developmental Psychology, 54, 410-427.

Duque, V.^, Pilkauskas, N.V.^ & Garfinkel, I. (2018). Assets among low-income families in the Great Recession. PLoS ONE, 13, e0192370 .

Pilkauskas, N.V., Campbell, C. & Wimer, C. (2017). Giving unto others: Private financial transfers and material hardship among families with children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79, 705-722.

Pilkauskas, N.V., Waldfogel, J. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2016). Maternal labor force participation and differences by education in an urban birth cohort study – 1998-2010. Demographic Research, 34, 407-420.

Pilkauskas, N.V. & Garfinkel, I. (2016). Public and private transfers. In Garfinkel, I., McLahanan, S. & Wimer, C. (Eds.), Children of the Great Recession. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Garfinkel, I. & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2016). Economic wellbeing. In Garfinkel, I., McLahanan, S. & Wimer, C. (Eds.), Children of the Great Recession. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Gottlieb, A., Pilkauskas, N.V. & Garfinkel, I. (2014). Private financial transfers, family income, and the Great Recession. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 1011-1024.

Pilkauskas, N.V., Currie, J. & Garfinkel, I. (2012). The Great Recession, public transfers and material hardship. Social Service Review, 3, 401-427.

Zilanawala, A.^ & Pilkauskas, N.V.^ (2012). Material hardship and children’s socioemotional behaviors: Differences by types of hardship, timing and duration. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 814-825.

Work in Progress

Pilkauskas, N.V. Maternal irregular work schedules and children’s school readiness.

Jacob, B., Pilkauskas, N.V., Rhodes, E., Richard, K.* & Shaefer, H. L. The impacts of unconditional cash transfers on low-income families.

Image: June Marie via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Refundable Tax Credits and the Social Safety Net

Welfare reforms have shifted the way the U.S. delivers assistance to low-income families away from direct cash assistance to an increasing reliance on work-contingent benefits through tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). My newest area of research focuses on refundable tax credits among households with children to better understand how the EITC impacts low-income families, paying particular attention to potential downstream effects on children. This ongoing work has been funded by the Institute for Research on Poverty, Poverty Solutions and the Russell Sage Foundation. Given the increasing reliance of the safety net on tax credits, many policy proposals to further increase the use of tax credits, and political pushes to make other safety net programs work-contingent, this research informs a number of key poverty policies that might impact children.

Publications Related to Refundable Tax Credits

Published Work

Michelmore, K.^ & Pilkauskas, N.V.^ (Forthcoming) Tots and teens: How does child’s age influence maternal labor supply and child care response to the Earned Income Tax Credit? Journal of Labor Economics.

Pilkauskas, N.V.^ & Michelmore, K.^ (2019). The effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit on housing and living arrangements. Demography, 56, 1303-1326

Work in Progress

Michelmore, K. & Pilkauskas, N.V. What kind of jobs? The Earned Income Tax Credit and job quality .

Pilkauskas, N.V.^ & Michelmore, K.^ The Earned Income Tax Credit, family complexity and children’s living arrangements (In Preparation for Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences issue on: Low-income families in the 21st century: Effective public policy responses to complexity and change)

Pilkauskas, N.V.^, Michelmore, K.^, & Rodems, R.* Who’s minding the kids? The Earned Income Tax Credit and child care arrangements.

Family Processes

My final strand of research focuses on how family characteristics and processes, like parenting behaviors or fertility patterns, shape the social, psychological and economic wellbeing of families. I have studied relationship quality and parenting, predictors of non-marital fertility for men, and the role of religion in supporting breastfeeding behaviors. A recent study examined the link between paternity leave and parental engagement examining differences between resident and non-resident fathers. This work finds that for fathers who do not live with their children, paternity leave is more strongly associated with parenting as compared to fathers who do live with their children.

Image: Kamaljith KV via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Publications Related to Family Processes

Published Work

Pilkauskas, N.V. & Schneider, W. (2020). Fathering among non-resident dads: Does paternity leave matter? Journal of Marriage and Family. Doi:10.1111/jomf.12677

Carlson, M. J., Van Orman, A. & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2013) Examining the antecedents of U.S. nonmarital fathering using two national datasets. Demography, 50, 1421-1447.

Burdette, A. & Pilkauskas, N.V. (2012). Maternal religious involvement and breastfeeding initiation and duration. American Journal of Public Health, 10, 1865-1868.

Carlson, M. J., Pilkauskas, N.V., McLanahan, S.S. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011). Couples as partners and parents over children’s early years. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 317-334.


I have been funded by the American Education Research Association, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, Poverty Solutions, and the Russell Sage Foundation. I have also worked on research funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Development.

2020-2021 Russell Sage Foundation. "What kind of jobs? The effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Job Quality" Principal Investigator (with PI Katherine Michelmore). $29,272.

2017-2019 National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation. “Maternal employment stability, intensity, and quality: Exploring the links with children’s school readiness and later educational outcomes.” Postdoctoral Fellow. $70,000.

2017-2018 Institute for Research on Poverty’s Extramural Small Grants Program for Research on Policies and Programs to Reduce Child Poverty and Its Effects, University of Wisconsin/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. “Assessing the effectiveness of tax credits in early childhood: Links between the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Poverty and Material Hardship.” Principal Investigator (with PI Katherine Michelmore). $25,000.

2017-2018 Institute for Research on Women and Gender Junior Faculty Scholar 2017-2018, University of Michigan. “Maternal employment and child wellbeing”. Faculty Fellow. One course release.

2017-2018 Poverty Solutions Junior Faculty Small Grant, University of Michigan. “Does the EITC reduce housing instability?” Principal Investigator (with PI Katherine Michelmore). $14,391.

2011-2012 American Education Research Association Grants Program, dissertation grant. “Three-generation family households and child wellbeing. Principal Investigator. $20,000.

University of Michigan, Ford School of Public Policy