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Better for Baby? The Retreat From Mid-Pregnancy Marriage and Implications for Parenting and Child Well-being

Abstract

Recent decades have seen a significant decline in mid-pregnancy (“shotgun”) marriage, particularly among disadvantaged groups, which has contributed to increasing nonmarital birth rates. Despite public and political concern about this shift, the implications for parenting and child well-being are not known. Drawing on a sample of U.S. black and white mothers with nonmarital conceptions from the NLSY79, our study fills this gap. Using propensity score techniques to address concerns about selection bias, we found that mid-pregnancy marriages were associated with slightly better parenting quality relative to remaining single, although effect sizes were small and limited to marriages that remained intact at the time of child assessment. Mid-pregnancy marriages were not associated with improved children’s behavior or cognitive ability. These findings suggest that the retreat from mid-pregnancy marriage may contribute to increasing inequality in parenting resources for children.

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Notes

  1. Although the proportion of cohabiting pregnant women who married prior to the birth was greater, marital transitions among such women was still the minority experience, with only about 14 % entering into marriage prior to the birth (Lichter et al. 2014).

  2. The NLSY79 has few Hispanic women who meet our sample criteria (n = 181). Therefore, we are unable to examine Hispanics in this study due to low sample size.

  3. Propensity scores derived from the pooled sample (black and white respondents together) did not balance the data, which suggests that the selection mechanisms for mid-pregnancy marriage differ by race.

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Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, San Francisco, CA, and the 2012 Encore Conference sponsored by the Cornell Population Center. The authors thank the anonymous reviewers, Fenaba Addo, Michelle Frisco, Fran Goldscheider, Stephen L. Morgan, Emily Taylor Poppe, and Robert Wagmiller for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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Correspondence to Jessica Houston Su.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 4 Descriptions of variables used in propensity score models and weighted regressions
Table 5 Propensity score models predicting likelihood of mid-pregnancy marriage
Table 6 Average of standardized mean and standard deviation differences between treatment and control
Table 7 Descriptive statistics weighted with ATE, ATT, and ATC weights

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Su, J.H., Dunifon, R. & Sassler, S. Better for Baby? The Retreat From Mid-Pregnancy Marriage and Implications for Parenting and Child Well-being. Demography 52, 1167–1194 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-015-0410-5

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Keywords

  • Nonmarital fertility
  • Marital status
  • Child well-being
  • Selection bias