What Constitutes a Fragile Family?

Any parent knows that no matter how strong and loving their family is they will, at some point, have major challenges to contend with. It is not easy raising children in a culture pervaded with sex and violence. Yet certain kinds of families and certain sets of circumstances can make families especially vulnerable and result in a whole array of academic and behavioral problems for children.

Princeton and Columbia Universities are collaborating in a Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study that examines how children fare in single parent families and cohabitating families compared to outcomes of children in married couple families. The Fragile Families project has been conducted over the last decade and is continuing at present; in general, this research finds that children raised by single parents or cohabitating couples do not fare as well as those raised in married couple families. A fact sheet prepared by Fragile Families summarizes some of this research.

The Fragile Families research indicates that most unmarried fathers are “very involved during pregnancy and immediately after the birth.” They provide some support and declare their commitment to help raise the child. But over time these unmarried fathers begin to drift away. After five years, just 35% still live with the mother of their child. If the unmarried father already lived with the mother at the time of birth, there was a better chance he was still around five years later; about 50% of the unmarried fathers in these instances were either married or still cohabitating with the mother.  In general, involvement by unmarried fathers declines over time, with only 50% of nonresident fathers indicating they have seen their child in the last month.

Once the unmarried father has left, many single moms end up with a new partner. The Fragile Families research shows that almost 40% of these moms forge a new partnership and that in 14% of these cases a new baby is born. All this coming and going of partners and new children from different fathers adds to the instability of the family and can be especially troubling for children. In fact, some research indicates children fare better in a stable single parent household than in families disrupted by a series of new partners. Still, single parenting remains a challenge and some studies show more behavioral problems for children raised by single mothers. More involvement by the father can help in these situations.


Posted: June 20, 2014

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