Research on Fragile Families

As we celebrate the achievements of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., researchers continue to find his dream deferred for millions of American children born to unmarried parents. Referring to unmarried couples with children, the term ‘Fragile Families’ signals a greater likelihood of economic and relationship instability. Children of fragile families are at greater risk of poorer health, school achievement, and social and emotional development.

Researchers at Princeton and Columbia Universities have collected data from 20 cities on the lifestyles, health, and wellbeing of fragile families. This ongoing project, known as the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, began by interviewing parents when their children were born and has continued with follow-up interviews at their children’s first, third, fifth, and ninth birthdays. Researchers are now making preparations for the 15-year wave to examine adolescent wellbeing, behavior and peer influence, and once again follow-up with parents.

As the Fragile Families study continues moving forward, new findings are constantly emerging from the data. The Future of Children published a volume on Fragile Families summarizing many of these findings. Topics in the volume include parental relationships, mothers’ economic conditions and sources of support, contributions of unwed fathers, incarceration, and unmarried parents in college. Research on the Fragile Families data has also been cited in other Future of Children volumes: Antipoverty Policies, Transition to Adulthood, Opportunity in America, and Marriage and Child Wellbeing. In addition, hundreds of other publications, including journal articles, books and book chapters, working papers, and research briefs have been made available for easy access on the Fragile Families publications website.

Researchers and Fragile Families staff members (FFDATA) at Princeton seek to maximize the use of the rich data that has come out of the Study by making data files available for public use. Novice and experienced data users can email the FFDATA team ( with questions about the Study and receive help with downloading and using the various files. They can also inquire about the three-day Fragile Families data users’ workshop that will be held in July at Columbia University.