American Indian Fragile Families and the Marriage Initiative

A Replication Study


  • Gordon Earl Limb Brigham Young University
  • Kevin Shafer Brigham Young University



American Indians, Native Americans, fragile families, marriage


Beginning in the mid-1990s, the federal government, supported by both Republican and Democratic administrations, has allocated roughly $1.5 billion to promote “healthy marriage initiatives.” A major target of these initiatives have been unmarried parents, or what researchers call fragile families. Over the past two decades, studies have examined this issue within the general population. This study applied three areas of the marriage initiative used by McLanahan (2006) to American Indian people: potential participation in marriage promotion programs, potential impact of marriage programs, and likelihood of marriage. Data for 3,152 women were examined from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, including 154 who self-identified as American Indian. This study showed that American Indians exhibited a high willingness to participate in marriage promotion programs. American Indians were less likely than other racial/ethnic groups to see marriage as better for children. This study underscores the need to understand American Indian families and their unique approaches to developing healthy marriage and family structures. For marriage promotion programs to work, they should reflect the cultural practices of the individual American Indian communities.


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