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Journal Issue: Fragile Families Volume 20 Number 2 Fall 2010

Mothers' Economic Conditions and Sources of Support in Fragile Families
Ariel Kalil Rebecca M. Ryan


As rates of nonmarital childbirth have increased in the United States in the past half-century, a new family type, the fragile family, has emerged. Fragile families, which are formed as the result of a nonmarital birth, include cohabiting couples as well as noncohabiting, or single, mothers. Such families evoke public concern in part because they are more impoverished and endure more material hardship than married-parent families and have fewer sources of economic support. Father absence and family instability are also cause for concern. The economic fragility of these families stems largely from mothers' and fathers' relatively low skills and training, which often pose barriers to higher-wage work. Fragile families also have almost no financial assets. In this article, we describe the economic challenges facing mothers in fragile families and the resources they call upon to meet these challenges.

We begin by summarizing economic conditions in fragile families using the most recent data available. Next, we suggest reasons why mothers in fragile families face so much poverty and material hardship, focusing especially on their living arrangements, employment capacities, and assets. We go on to explain how, given their economic conditions and capacities, mothers in fragile families make ends meet in their households. Specifically, we describe the sources of public and private support available to them and the role each plays in mothers' economic survival.