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Children and Youth Services Review Volume (issue): 23 (4-5) 2001


Fragile Families and Welfare Reform

Guest Editors, Irwin Garfinkel (Columbia University, Sara McLanahan and Marta Tienda (Princeton University) and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (Columbia University)

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Fragile families and welfare reform: An introduction 277 -- 301
Irwin Garfinkel, Sara S. McLanahan, Marta Tienda, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) is designed to shift more of the responsibility for poor children from government to parents. To accomplish this goal, the new law requires welfare clients to work and limits the total number of years they can receive public assistance. In addition, the legislation strengthens child support enforcement and, because many children on welfare were born to unmarried parents, requires states to strengthen paternity establishment. Taken together, these new laws promote marriage and family formation by making it nearly impossible for single mothers to rely on welfare for long periods of time and by making it increasingly difficult for non-resident fathers to avoid supporting their children.
Fragile Families: sample and design 303 -- 326
Nancy E. Reichman, Julien O. Teitler, Irwin Garfinkel, Sara S. McLanahan

This paper provides important background information on the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, and is the first and only paper to provide detailed information on the research methodology and sampling strategies employed. The bulk of the paper is devoted to a detailed description of the three-stage sampling process that was used to obtain a nationally representative sample of non-marital births in large US cities. First, it was necessary to sample cities that, collectively, were nationally representative and had maximum variation in policy regimes. Next, it was necessary to sample hospitals so as to be representative of non-marital births in each city. Finally, we sampled births in order to be representative of those at each hospital. The paper concludes with some general information about the study and a simple description of the baseline non-marital sample from the first seven cities.
Capabilities and employability of unwed mothers 327 -- 351
Aurora P. Jackson, Marta Tienda, Chien-Chung Huang

In this paper we assess the economic capabilities of a sample of unwed mothers who gave birth in spring, 1998 in hospitals that serve low-income residents in seven cities that are part of a national sampling frame. We show that recent unwed mothers who are not in a cohabiting relationship are especially vulnerable to economic hardship because they are more likely to encounter multiple barriers to employment than mothers who do cohabit with their newborn’s father. However, analyses of earnings capacity suggest that most single-mother families would be poor even if the mothers worked 1500 hours per year, and near poor if they worked full-time, year round (2000 hours). Analyses of income portfolios indicate that low-income mothers are quite resourceful packing cash and income transfers from multiple sources to meet the needs of their families. These results are discussed in the context of recent welfare reform.
Regular and irregular earnings of unwed fathers: Implications for child support practices 353 -- 376
Lauren M. Rich

This paper estimates the regular and irregular earnings of unmarried fathers, using data from the first seven cities of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. The results indicate that these fathers earn about $17,000 on average, a figure comparable to previous estimates of the earnings of nonresident and/or unmarried fathers. The paper also explores the relative importance of these fathers’ irregular economic activity. The findings indicate that almost three in ten fathers participate in the irregular sector, and that most of these fathers combine irregular with regular sector work. Also, among fathers reporting informal activity, irregular earnings serve to increase total earnings by 20 percent. However, among all unmarried fathers, irregular earnings increase total earnings by only 6 percent.
Health status and behaviors of unwed fathers 377 -- 401
Melvin Wilson, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
Father involvement, child health and maternal health behavior 403 -- 425
Julien O. Teitler
Low birthweight: Do unwed fathers help? 427 -- 452
Yolanda C. Padilla, Nancy E. Reichman

Previous studies have revealed that marital status is an important predictor of birth outcomes, with unmarried mothers having a higher probability than married mothers of delivering low birthweight babies. However, research on the impact of different mother-father relationships among unwed parents is virtually non-existent and little is known about whether and how father involvement affects birth outcomes. In this study, we use the sample of unwed parents in the 7-cities baseline Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data to examine the effects of parents’ relationship status and support provided by the baby’s father during pregnancy on the likelihood of delivering a low birthweight baby, and to examine whether father involvement explains racial and ethnic disparities in low birthweight. We include several variables that past studies have suggested may be important in explaining birth outcomes but generally have not been able to include, such as mother’s social support, her attitudes and values, and her religiosity. We find that having received monetary support from the baby’s father has a negative effect on the likelihood of low birthweight and that mothers who are in a non-cohabiting romantic relationship with the father have significantly higher odds of low birthweight compared to mothers who cohabit with the father of their baby. Finally, racial and ethnic differences in birth outcomes within this population appear to be invariant to the level of father involvement. A major contribution of the study is that it uses rich new data to examine birth outcomes in a population at high risk—unmarried mothers—and incorporates measures such as parents’ relationship status and father’s financial support, along with an extensive set of demographic, social, and behavioral risk factors.
see also

Fragile Families and Welfare Reform: Part II

Assessing and Managing Risk in Child Protective Services Volume 23:1
Guest Editors, Aron Shlonsky and Eileen Gambrill (University of California, Berkeley)

Child Welfare Research for the 21st Century Volume 22:9-10
Guest Editor,
Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University)

Challenges Implementing and Evaluating Child Welfare Demonstration Projects, (Numbers 6 and 7) forthcoming
Guest Editor, Devon Brooks (University of Southern California)

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