Princeton University Shield Princeton University

Sara McLanahan

Office of Population Research
265 Wallace Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544

How Do Families Shape The Future?

Families are central to the system of social stratification. As the first social institution to which children are exposed, families both mediate and modify the effects of genes and the environment on future life chances. My early work focused on the growth of single-mother families and what it meant for women and children, an inquiry which yielded Growing Up With a Single Parent. Today, I am immersed in the study of “fragile families,” unmarried parents raising a child together. This population is growing rapidly and to understand its contours, I have collaborated with many colleagues to create the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study which follows a cohort of about 5000 children (including 3700 children born to unmarried parents) who were born between 1998 and 2000. This survey will help us understand the capabilities of unmarried parents, especially fathers, the nature of parental relationships, from casual to committed, the fortunes of children in these households, and the role of local labor market conditions and government policies in shaping family dynamics and child wellbeing.

Selected Publications: 

Jackson, Margot, Kiernan, Kathleen and Sara McLanahan. “Immigrant-Native Differences in Child Health: Does Maternal Education Narrow or Widen the Gap? Forthcoming in Child Development.

Thomson, Elizabeth and Sara McLanahan. “Reflections on ‘Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources vs. Parental Socialization.” Forthcoming in Social Forces

Bzostek, Sharon, Marcia Carlson, and Sara McLanahan.  “Mothers’ Repartnering After a Non-Marital Birth.”  Social Forces. 90(3):817-841. 
Jackson, Margot, Kiernan, Kathleen and Sara McLanahan. “Immigrant-Native Differences in Child Health: Does Maternal Education Narrow or Widen the Gap?" The Annals. 643: 192-218 
Martinson, Melissa, McLanahan, Sara and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Race/ethnic and Nativity Disparities in Child Overweight in the United States and England.”  The Annals. 643: 219-266.

McLanahan, Sara and Irv Garfinkel. “Fragile Families: Debates, Facts and Solutions.” In Elizabeth Scott and Marsha Garrison (eds).  Marriage at the Crossroads. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McLanahan, Sara. “Family Instability and Complexity after a Nonmarital Birth:  Outcomes for Children in Fragile Families.” Pp. 108-133 in Marcia J. Carlson and Paula England (eds.). Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mitchell, Colter, Daniel Notterman, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Iulia Kotenko, Kate Jaeger, John Hobcraft, Irwin Garfinkel, and Sara McLanahan. “The Role of Mother’s Genes and Environment on Postpartum Depression.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (20): 8189-8193.

Cooper, C.E., Osborne, C.A., Beck, A.N., and McLanahan, S. S.” Partnership Instability, School Readiness, and Gender Disparities.” Sociology of Education. 84(3): 246-259.

Watson, Tara and Sara McLanahan. “Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status.” Journal of Human Resources. 46(3): 482–517.

Kimbro, Rachel, Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne and Sara McLanahan. “Young Children in urban areas: Link among neighborhood characteristics, weight status, outdoor play, and television watching.” Social Science and Medicine. 72(5): 668-676.

Carlson, Marcia, Pilkauskas, Natasha, McLanahan, Sara and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Couples as Partners and Parents over Children’s Early Years.” Journal of Marriage and  Family 73(2): 317-334.

Beck, Audrey, Cooper, Carey, McLanahan, Sara, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Partnership Transitions and Maternal Parenting.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (April 2010): 219 – 233.

McLanahan, Sara and Beck, Audrey, “Parental Relationships in Fragile Families” Pp. 17-38 In The Future of Children 20 (2) Princeton NJ: Princeton Press.

Carlson, Marcia J. and Sara S. McLanahan. "Fathers in Fragile Families." Pp. 241-269 in Michael E. Lamb (ed). The Role of the Father in Child Development, fifth edition, New York: Wiley & Sons.