The high proportion of children born outside marriage -- 37 percent in 2005 -- has raised concern among policymakers about the quality and stability of unmarried parents' relationships. In response, the federal government's Healthy Marriage Initiative provides funding to programs aimed at strengthening the bonds between unmarried parents through activities such as relationship counseling and building communication skills. The initiative also provides funding for "responsible fatherhood programs" that provide counseling and mentoring on topics such as good parenting practices.
Although evaluations are currently underway to determine whether model programs can improve parents' relationship quality and stability, the results for those programs will not be available for at least several years. In the meantime,the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study can provide some insights into the relationship dynamics of unmarried couples who have recently had a child -- the target population of the new programs. Information on the trajectories of parents' relationships, the quality of their relationships, and father-child contact can help us understand how much leverage relationship strengthening and responsible fatherhood programs may expect to have in the lives of these families.
In this brief, the authors use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study on parents' relationship
status at the time of their child's birth and again
when the child is five year old. All data are based
on mothers' reports. The sample includes mothers
who were unmarried at the child's birth, who
responded to the five-year survey, and who resided
in one of the cities randomly selected to be part of
the national sample (N=1,979). Data are weighted
to be nationally representative of births to unmarried
parents in large U.S. cities in 1998-2000 and
account for sample attrition. (Author abstract modified)