, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 47-62

The influence of nonmarital childbearing on the formation of first marriages

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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.

This study was funded in part by The Russell Sage Foundation. We would like to thank Larry Bumpass for generously providing some tabulations from the National Survey of Families and Households, and two referees for their helpful comments. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the conference, “Outcomes of Early Childbearing: An Appraisal of Recent Evidence,” held at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, MD in May 1992; at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, held in Cincinnati in August 1991; and at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, held in Washington, DC in March 1991.