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The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study: Questions, Design, and a Few Preliminary Results

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  • S. McLanahan
  • I. Garfinkel
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    Abstract

    Nonmarital childbearing is important because it is increasing and because there is concern (and some evidence) that it is damaging to children and perhaps parents as well. We refer to the unions of unwed parents as fragile families because they are similar to traditional families in many respects, but more vulnerable. Most people believe that children in fragile families would be better off if their parents lived together and their fathers were more involved in their upbringing. Indeed, public policy is now attempting to enlarge the role of unwed fathers both by cutting public cash support for single mothers and by strengthening paternity establishment and child support enforcement. Yet the scientific basis for these policies is weak. We know very little about the men who father children outside marriage, and we know even less about the nature of their relationships with their children and their children’s mothers. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS) is designed to remedy this situation by following a new birth cohort of approximately 4,700 children, including 3,600 children born to unmarried parents. The new data will be representative of nonmarital births in each of 20 cities and in U.S. cities with populations over 200,000. Both mothers and fathers will be followed for at least 4 years, and in-home assessments of children’s heath and development will be carried out when the child is 4 years old. The survey is designed to address the following questions: (1) What are the conditions and capabilities of new unwed parents, especially fathers? (2) What is the nature of the relationships in fragile families? (3) What factors push new unwed parents together and what factors pull them apart? In particular, how do labor markets, welfare, and child support public policies affect family formation? (4) How do children fare in fragile families and how is their well-being affected by parental capacities and relationships, and by public policies? The paper discusses what we know about each of these questions and how the FFS addresses each of them. It also presents preliminary findings based on data from Austin, Texas, and Oakland, California.

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    Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1208-00.

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    Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1208-00

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    1. Akerlof, George A, 1998. "Men without Children," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(447), pages 287-309, March.
    2. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
    3. David Neumark & Sanders D. Korenman, 1988. "Does marriage really make men more productive?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 29, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    4. R. A. Moffitt, . "The Effect of Welfare on Marriage and Fertility: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1153-97, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    5. T. Paul Schultz, 1994. "Marital Status and Fertility in the United States: Welfare and Labor Market Effects," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 637-669.
    6. Lucia A. Nixon, 1997. "The Effect of Child Support Enforcement on Marital Dissolution," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(1), pages 159-181.
    7. Irwin Garfinkel & Sara Mclanahan & Daniel Meyer & Judith Seltzer, 1998. "Fathers under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement in the USA (This CASEpaper is a summary of the book by the same title and authors, published by the Russel Sage Foundation, 1998)," CASE Papers case14, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    8. Daniel, K., 1991. "Does Marriage Make Men More Productive?," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 92-2, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
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