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Fragile Families, Father Involvement, and Public Policy.

Publication Year: 
Personal Author: 
Carlson, M. J.
McLanahan, S. S.
Chapter in Book
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This chapter reviews trends in nonmarital childbearing and explores the role of public policies in promoting the involvement of fathers in the lives of children born outside of marriage. Emphasis is placed on fragile families, defined as unmarried couples, cohabiting or living separately, who are raising a child together. These families are considered fragile because of the unstable nature of the parents' relationship and risk for poverty. Baseline data collected for the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study revealed that the majority of unmarried parents were romantically involved when their child was born. Fifty-one percent of the parents were cohabiting and 32 percent were in a visiting relationship. Most of the parents expected to marry their child's mother or father in the future. Fathers were more likely to expect marriage than mothers, even when they were not romantically involved when the child was born. Most couples also agreed that child well-being is better when parents are married, despite their misgivings about marriage and high levels of distrust of the opposite sex. Unmarried parents had lower educational achievement and employment rates than married parents, increasing their risk for poverty and welfare participation. Research about the importance of fathers as economic providers and emotional supporters indicate that public policies should promote men's involvement in their child's lives. The chapter provides recommendations for welfare programs, child support enforcement, and fatherhood programs. Numerous references, 1 figure, and 3 tables.

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