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Ann Am Acad Pol Soc Sci. 2009 Jan 1;621(1):111-131.

Fragile Families and the Reproduction of Poverty.

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  • 1Princeton University 265 Wallace Hall Princeton, NJ 08544 609-258-4875


In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that non-marital childbearing and marital dissolution were undermining the progress of African Americans. I argue that what Moynihan identified as a race-specific problem in the 1960s has now become a class-based phenomena as well. Using data from a new birth cohort study, I show that unmarried parents come from much more disadvantaged populations than married parents. I further argue that non-marital childbearing reproduces class and racial disparities through its association with partnership instability and multi-partnered fertility. These processes increase in maternal stress and mental health problems, reduce the quality of mothers' parenting, reduce paternal investments, and ultimately lead to poor outcomes in children. Finally, by spreading fathers' contributions across multiple households, partnership instability and multi-partnered fertility undermine the importance of individual fathers' contributions of time and money which is likely to affect the future marriage expectations of both sons and daughters.

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