We use more than 20 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to examine wealth trajectories among mothers following a nonmarital first birth. We compare wealth according to union type and union stability, and we distinguish partners by biological parentage of the firstborn child. Net of controls for education, race/ethnicity, and family background, single mothers who enter into stable marriages with either a biological father or stepfather experience significant wealth advantages over time (more than $2,500 per year) relative to those who marry and divorce, cohabit, or remain unpartnered. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for unequal selection into marriage support these findings and demonstrate that race (but not ethnicity) and age at first birth structure mothers’ access to later marriage. We conclude that not all single mothers have equal access to marriage; however, marriage, union stability, and paternity have distinct roles for wealth accumulation following a nonmarital birth.
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In supplementary analyses, we used t tests to compare differences in means for the 121 women who were missing data on union status at or near age 40 with our sample using the means of time-invariant variables measured in 1985 (our baseline year) as well as net worth in 1985. We found only two differences: single mothers in our sample had a statistically significant lower mean for attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher; however, they had a higher mean for parental income. Importantly, we found no statistical difference in net worth between our sample and those omitted because of missing data on union status.
We adjust for inflation to 2004 dollars using the Consumer Price Index.
Five data sets were imputed for each model using SAS Proc MI and SAS Proc Mixed. Final results were obtained using SAS Proc MIAnalyze. In supplemental analysis, we compared results generated both with and without multiple imputation and found similar results.
The coefficients for these two groups were statistically equivalent.
Wealth accumulation per year of age was statistically equivalent between these two groups.
The rate of wealth accumulation for a first or second marriage was statistically indistinguishable.
Baseline wealth disadvantages of women who married the biological father versus a stepfather were statistically equivalent.
Baseline wealth was statistically equivalent for these two groups.
Equality-of-coefficients tests show that these slopes were all equivalent.
For ease of presentation, we exclude the category for women who cohabited with and never married a stepfather because the baseline and over-time wealth coefficients were statistically equivalent to the reference group.
Their greater baseline wealth is likely a result of their broader advantages in a range of sociodemographic background factors, including education and income (see Table 5). When these and other control variables are entered in the multivariate models in Table 3, this baseline wealth difference reverses direction.
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The first two authors contributed equally. The authors would like to thank Jonathan Vespa for comments on a previous draft. This research was supported in part by Grant Number R01HD054866 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (PI: Kristi Williams). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.
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Painter, M., Frech, A. & Williams, K. Nonmarital Fertility, Union History, and Women’s Wealth. Demography 52, 153–182 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0367-9
- Nonmarital birth
- Single mothers