She is the William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. She received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Houston and her PhD in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin, and she previously taught at the University of Wisconsin.
At Princeton, McLanahan is the founding director of the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, a principal investigator of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, director of the Education Research Section, and director of the Joint Degree Program in Social Policy.
McLanahan is editor-in-chief of the journal The Future of Children and a trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation. She served as president of the Population Association of America in 2004, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 2005, and, in 2011, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society in 2016.
She is known for her work on the family as a major institution in the American stratification system. Her early work examined the consequences of divorce and remarriage for parents and children, and her recent work focuses on families formed by unmarried parents. She is interested in the effects of family structure on social inequality and the roles that public policies can play in addressing the needs of families and children.
- McLanahan, Sara and Isabel Sawhill. Editors. 2015. The Future of Children: Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- McLanahan, Sara, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider. 2013. The Causal Effects of Father Absence. Annual Review of Sociology. 39: 399-427.
- McLanahan, Sara, Irwin Garfinkel, Ron Mincy, and Elisabeth Donahue. Editors. 2010. The Future of Children: Fragile Families. 20(2). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- McLanahan, Sara. 2009. “Fragile Families and the Reproduction of Poverty.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 621: 111-131.
- McLanahan, Sara and Christine Percheski. 2008. “Family Structure and the Reproduction of Inequalities.” Annual Review of Sociology. 34: 257-276.
- Meadows, Sarah O., Sara S. McLanahan, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. 2008. “Stability and Change in Family Structure and Maternal Health Trajectories.” American Sociological Review. 73(2): 314-334.
- Carlson, Marcia, Sara McLanahan, and Paula England. 2004. “Union Formation in Fragile Families.” Demography. 41(2): 237-261.
- McLanahan, Sara. 2004. “Diverging Destinies: How Children Fare Under the Second Demographic Transition.” Demography. 41(4): 607-627.
- McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. 1994. Growing up with a Single Parent: What Helps, What Hurts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Garfinkel, Irwin and Sara McLanahan. 1986. Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma. Baltimore: Urban Institute Press.
- McLanahan, Sara. 1985. “Family Structure and the Reproduction of Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology. 90(4): 873-901.
- "Sara McLanahan | Princeton Sociology". sociology.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Sara McLanahan". Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Curriculum Vitae, Sara McLanahan, Princeton University, 2011.
- "Sara S. McLanahan - Home". www.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "People - The Future of Children - People". www.futureofchildren.org. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Who We Are | Russell Sage Foundation". www.russellsage.org. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Past Presidents < Population Association of America". www.populationassociation.org. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "AAPSS : Fellows A-Z". www.aapss.org. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Sara McLanahan". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2015-12-28.