Sara Francis Smith Death, Sara McLanahan has passed away, cause of death

January 5, 2022 By Michael smith 0

Sara Francis Smith Death, Cause Of Death – Sad day y’day hearing about Sara McLanahan. Her work on the family and poverty was sometimes misused by political groups, left and right… and by some sociologists. I increasingly saw her mis-cited as a “straw woman” of social demography. Sara Francis Smith was born in Tyler, Texas, on December 27, 1940, where she lived with her parents and one sibling until moving to Irvington, New York, to attend Bennet Junior College in 1959.

Graduating with highest honors, she moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, to attend Smith College in 1961, but dropped out to marry Ellery McLanahan in 1962. By the early 1970s, Sara, her husband, and the couple’s three children had settled in Houston, where, in 1972, the couple divorced. Shortly thereafter, Sara completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston. While raising her children on her own, she earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Texas in 1979. Later, she would come to be known for
her pathbreaking work on single motherhood, an interest sparked by becoming a single mother herself.

As a graduate student, Sara’s research was not focused on single parenthood—she didn’t believe she should pursue that interest because she was so close to the subject matter. Instead, she examined healthcare delivery systems such as HMOs. Yet those years offered a glimpse of the scholarly interests that would drive her career. While at the University of Texas, she became friends with several demography trainees and was attracted to their collaborative approach.

To learn more, Sara enrolled in a course taught by Teresa A. Sullivan, a well-known demographer. Sullivan assigned the 1975 book, The Time of Transition: The Growth of Families Headed by Women, by Heather Ross and Isabel Sawhill. “It was all about increases in divorce and interpreting those trends. I loved the stuff, and I wanted to be Isabel Sawhill!” Sara said in an interview with the Population Association of America. This is how she discovered the field that she would engage with, and help shape, for the nextforty years.

After completing her degree, Sara completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health. These years at Wisconsin, with its rich traditions in poverty studies, demography, and sociology of the family, would prove pivotal to her career. There, she met two of the leading family demographers in the country, Larry Bumpass and James Sweet. Bumpass taught Sara demographic techniques.

Sara also began to attend a brown bag seminar at Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, the first federally supported poverty research center in the United States, established in 1966 and funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity. One week, the discussion centered around a series of articles titled “The Underclass” by Ken Auletta, published in

the New Yorker in November 1981. Among his claims was the statement that “one cannot talk about poverty in America, or about the underclass, without talking about the weakened family structure of the poor.” Auletta went on to quote experts who claimed that racial differences in family structure explained a significant portion of the black-white income gap (about one-third, according to one scholar). The implication was that growing up with a single parent was harmful to children.

Sara was stunned by Auletta’s claims. She had just read a lengthy scholarly review concluding that studies showing negative associations between single motherhood and child outcomes were seriously flawed due to highly selective samples. Surely, with better data, she could prove those experts wrong, she believed. When Aage Sorensen, chair of the sociology department at Wisconsin, heard that Sara was interested in studying single parents, he delivered the codebook for the first representative longitudinal panel study in the U.S., the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which had enrolled its first cohort in 1968. Sorenson told Sara that if she wanted to study single mothers, this is where she could find a lot of them. She dug in.

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