Dr Garfinkel said the results of the fragile families study “provide no support for the thesis on the culture of povertywhich posits that differing values ​​and behaviors among the poor trap them in self-perpetuating cycles of deprivation. Rather, he said, “circumstances and opportunities,” not differences in value, have the greatest impact.

Although her findings antagonized some single mother advocates, Dr. McLanahan continued to publish books and articles on the subject.

“We reject the argument that people should not talk about the negative consequences of single motherhood for fear of stigmatizing single mothers and their children,” Dr. McLanahan and researcher Gary Sandefur wrote in their 1994 book, “Growing up with a single parent: what hurts, what helps.” “While we appreciate the compassion behind this position, we disagree with the end result. Indeed, we believe that not talking about these issues does more harm than good.

Sara Frances Smith was born on December 27, 1940 in Tyler, Texas. Her father, Norman Smith, was the general manager of a local oil company. His mother, Iredell (Brown) Smith, was a homemaker.

She attended Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, now known as Tyler Legacy High School. A gifted pianist, she studied at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado for a summer. She attended Bennett Junior College in Irvington, NY, then Smith College. After a year with Smith, she dropped out in 1962 and married Ellery McLanahan. They had three children, Sara, Ellery and Anna Bell, all of whom survive him. The family moved to Houston and the couple divorced in 1972.

Dr. McLanahan returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Houston in 1974. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin.

She began her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in 1979. It was there that she met Dr. Garfinkel and focused her research on single motherhood. (She had avoided the subject in her doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas because, she said, it seemed too close to her.) She and Dr. Garfinkel were married in 1982.