About the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study

The Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study is following a cohort of nearly 5,000 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000 (roughly three-quarters of whom were born to unmarried parents). We refer to unmarried parents and their children as “fragile families” to underscore that they are families and that they are at greater risk of breaking up and living in poverty than more traditional families.

The core Study was originally designed to primarily address four questions of great interest to researchers and policy makers: (1) What are the conditions and capabilities of unmarried parents, especially fathers?; (2) What is the nature of the relationships between unmarried parents?; (3) How do children born into these families fare?; and (4) How do policies and environmental conditions affect families and children?

The core Study consists of interviews with both mothers, fathers, and/or primary caregivers at birth and again when children are ages one, three, five, nine, and fifteen. The parent interviews collect information on attitudes, relationships, parenting behavior, demographic characteristics, health (mental and physical), economic and employment status, neighborhood characteristics, and program participation. Additionally, in-home assessments of children and their home environments were conducted at ages three, five, nine, and fifteen. The in-home interview collects information on children’s cognitive and emotional development, health, and home environment. Several collaborative studies provide additional information on parents’ medical, employment and incarceration histories, religion, child care and early childhood education. Six waves of data are publicly available through the Office of Population Research data archive.

Research findings based on data from the Study are published in research briefs, reports, working papers, journal articles, and book chapters (see the publications page).

In 2020 we will begin fieldwork for the seventh wave of the Study, when our focal children are approximately 22 years old. This wave will include a survey with the “focal child” as a young adult as well as with the person who was the Primary Caregiver (PCG) at Age 15. For data on the young adults, we will include questions on a wide range of topics including socioeconomic status, family formation, physical and mental health, family relationships and social support, local area contexts, and access to and participation in health care, higher education, housing, and other government programs. For PCGs we will ask questions about their own health and wellbeing, employment, housing, and family relationships.

FFCWS is a joint effort by Princeton University’s Center for Research on Child Wellbeing (CRCW) and the Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC).

The current Principal Investigators are Sara McLanahan and Kathryn Edin at Princeton University and Irwin Garfinkel and Jane Waldfogel at Columbia University. Current co-investigators and research partners include Janet Currie and Dan Notterman at Princeton University and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, and Ron Mincy at Columbia University.