, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 1345–1356

Magic Moment? Maternal Marriage for Children Born Out of Wedlock


DOI: 10.1007/s13524-014-0308-7

Cite this article as:
Gibson-Davis, C. Demography (2014) 51: 1345. doi:10.1007/s13524-014-0308-7


To test the existence of the “magic moment” for parental marriage immediately post-birth and to inform policies that preferentially encourage biological over stepparent marriage, this study estimates the incidence and stability of maternal marriage for children born out of wedlock. Data came from the National Survey of Family Growth on 5,255 children born nonmaritally. By age 15, 29 % of children born nonmaritally experienced a biological-father marriage, and 36 % experienced a stepfather marriage. Stepfather marriages occurred much later in a child’s life—one-half occurred after the child turned age 7—and had one-third higher odds of dissolution. Children born to black mothers had qualitatively different maternal marriage experiences than children born to white or Hispanic mothers, with less biological-parent marriage and higher incidences of divorce. Findings support the existence of the magic moment and demonstrate that biological marriages were more enduring than stepfather marriages. Yet relatively few children born out of wedlock experienced stable, biological-parent marriages as envisioned by marriage promotion programs.


MarriageDivorceNonmarital childbearingRace and ethnicity

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sanford School of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA