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Children in Fragile Families

  • Sara McLanahan

    (Princeton University)

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    This paper uses data from the first four waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the following questions: (1) what are unmarried parents’ capabilities at the time of their child’s birth, and what is the nature of their relationship at birth and over time? (2) How do family structure and stability affect parental resources (financial and health)? (3) How do family structure and stability affect the level and quality of parental investments in children? And (4) how do family structure and stability affect children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development? We argue that although unmarried parents have “high hopes” for their relationships at the time their child is born, low capabilities and distrust lead to high rates of union instability and growing family complexity. Instability and complexity, in turn, reduce parental resources by lowering parental resources (financial and health), paternal investments, and the quality of mothers’ parenting, all of which undermine children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. At the aggregate level, these pathways explain how non-marital childbearing contributes to the persistence of disadvantage across generations.

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    Paper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. in its series Working Papers with number 1191.

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    Date of creation: Oct 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:pri:crcwel:wp09-16-ff
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    1. Kathleen E. Kiernan & Maria Carmen Huerta, 2008. "Economic deprivation, maternal depression, parenting and children's cognitive and emotional development in early childhood," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 43720, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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