New Fragile Families Banner


About the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study

The Fragile Families and 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 FF Study was 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 Study consists of interviews with both mothers and fathers at birth and again when children are ages one, three and five, plus in-home assessments of children and their home environments at ages three and five. 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. 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. The first four waves of data are available on the web at Research findings based on data from the Fragile Families Study are available in the Fragile Families Working Paper series.

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing in Middle Childhood Study received a $17 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) to field a nine-year follow-up. This project combines the core telephone surveys, in-home study, and teacher surveys into one larger project. Data collection began in 2007 and concluded in spring 2010. Data from the nine-year wave is also now available at In addition, the Study has recently been funded by NICHD for a fifteen-year follow-up wave. The collection of in-home and telephone survey data from caregivers and youth began February 2014.

The Study contributes to the teaching/training mission of CRCW by hosting bi-monthly workshops and courses for faculty and students at Princeton and Columbia University. The Study has also sponsored several summer workshops at Columbia University. Finally, Princeton undergraduates use these data for their senior theses, under the guidance of CRCW faculty.

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study contributes to the policy mission of CRCW by publishing research briefs that translate working papers into information that is useful to policy makers and practitioners. The Study also provides useful information to foundations, government agencies and NGOs working to improve the conditions of children in New Jersey: see Children’s Futures and Fragile Families in Urban Essex .

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is a joint effort by Princeton University’s Center for Research on Child Wellbeing (CRCW) and Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Columbia Population Research Center and The National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) at Columbia University.

The Principal Investigators of the Fragile Families Study are Sara McLanahan, Christina Paxson, and Janet Currie at Princeton University; Irwin Garfinkel, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ron Mincy, and Jane Waldfogel at Columbia University; and Dan Notterman at Princeton University.

Click here for a list of agencies and organizations who funded the Fragile Families Study.