Dr. McLanahan’s research interests include family demography, poverty and inequality, and social policy. Her research focuses on the causes and consequences of non-traditional family structures. She is the author of Single Mothers and their Children: A New America Dilemma, 1986 (with Irwin Garfinkel), Growing Up with a Single Parent, 1994 (with Gary Sandefur), several edited books, and over 100 articles.

Dr. McLanahan is a founding director of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a nationally-representative longitudinal birth cohort study of approximately 5,000 families, including 3,700 unmarried parents and their children. The study is designed to shed light on the health and development of low-income children, the impact of family relationships and dynamics on child wellbeing, and the impact of social policies on family relationships and child wellbeing.

Dr. McLanahan is also editor-in-chief of the Future of Children, a policy journal on children's issues produced by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.