Family Ties


, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 47-62

First online:

The influence of nonmarital childbearing on the formation of first marriages

  • Neil G. BennettAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Yale University
  • , David E. BloomAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Columbia University
  • , Cynthia K. MillerAffiliated withOffice of Population Research, Princeton University

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We document a negative association between nonmarital childbearing and the subsequent likelihood of first marriage in the United States, controlling for a variety of potentially confounding influences. Nonmarital childbearing does not appear to be driven by low expectations of future marriage. Rather, it tends to be an unexpected and unwanted event, whose effects on a woman’s subsequent likelihood of first marriage are negative on balance. We find that women who bear a child outside marriage and who receive welfare have a particularly low probability of marrying subsequently, although there is no evidence that AFDC recipients have lower expectations of marriage. In addition, we find no evidence that stigma associated with nonmarital childbearing plays an important role in this process or that the demands of children significantly reduce unmarried mothers’ time for marriage market activities.