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February/March 2002Vol. 3, No. 2Report Offers First Insights into "Fragile Families"

Policy makers and program directors can gain a deeper understanding of “fragile families”—unwed parents raising their child together—from a new national report.

Fragile families are at a higher risk of poverty and instability than traditional families, but little is known about the resources of, and relationships within, fragile families, and how government policies can affect their lives. The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being national report presents preliminary baseline statistics and findings for 2,670 such families from 16 cities between April 1998 and November 2000. Over the long-term, the study will follow the families from their child's birth through age 4.

The baseline study reports the following:

  • Unwed parents are committed to each other and their child at the time of the birth; the majority of mothers want the father involved in raising the child
  • Most unwed parents are poorly equipped to support their families
  • Most unmarried mothers are healthy and have healthy children.

The report also notes the following:

  • Unmarried parents do not attain high levels of education; only 4 percent of mothers and fathers, respectively, complete college or higher; 37 percent of mothers and 34 percent of fathers lack a high school diploma
  • The majority of parents are in fairly good health
  • There is a high cohabitation rate among unmarried parents—half of unmarried mothers are living with their child's father at the time of the child's birth
  • Spending time together was ranked as the major source of conflict between parents
  • The majority of unmarried parents believe marriage is beneficial for children
  • Both mothers and father consider steady employment and emotional maturity important prerequisites for marriage
  • Unmarried parents tend not to have deep roots in their neighborhoods; 53 percent of new mothers and 46 percent of new fathers have lived in their neighborhoods for 2 years or less
  • A majority of the new parents' incomes are either below, or just barely above, the poverty line
  • Many unmarried parents are uninformed about new welfare rules and regulations.

The baseline report also describes other purposes of the study such as tracking the development of children born to unmarried parents, providing research on unmarried fathers, and relating changes in parental behavior and family environment to changes in the health and development of children.

The study is supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Office of Population Research, Princeton University. The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services provide additional funding, as do many foundations.

The national report, and baseline reports of individual cities involved in the study, can be found at under the "publications" link.

For more information about the Fragile Families and Child and Well-being Study, visit the website at, or contact the following organizations:

The Center for Research on Child Wellbeing
Wallace Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544
Phone: 609-258-5894

The Social Indicators Survey Center
Columbia University School of Social Work
622 West 113 Street
New York, NY 10025
Phone: 212-854-9046