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Midpregnancy Marriage and Divorce: Why the Death of Shotgun Marriage Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Abstract

Conventional wisdom holds that births following the colloquially termed “shotgun marriage”—that is, births to parents who married between conception and the birth—are nearing obsolescence. To investigate trends in shotgun marriage, we matched North Carolina administrative data on nearly 800,000 first births among white and black mothers to marriage and divorce records. We found that among married births, midpregnancy-married births (our preferred term for shotgun-married births) have been relatively stable at about 10 % over the past quarter-century while increasing substantially for vulnerable population subgroups. In 2012, among black and white less-educated and younger women, midpregnancy-married births accounted for approximately 20 % to 25 % of married first births. The increasing representation of midpregnancy-married births among married births raises concerns about well-being among at-risk families because midpregnancy marriages may be quite fragile. Our analysis revealed, however, that midpregnancy marriages were more likely to dissolve only among more advantaged groups. Of those groups considered to be most at risk of divorce—namely, black women with lower levels of education and who were younger—midpregnancy marriages had the same or lower likelihood of divorce as preconception marriages. Our results suggest an overlooked resiliency in a type of marriage that has only increased in salience.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As a phrase, “shotgun-married births” is outdated and does not accurately represent the context under which these marriage decisions are made. We prefer the term “midpregnancy-married births.”

  2. 2.

    Results for postbirth marriages were right-censored; nevertheless, demographic characteristics were consistent with previous studies on couples who marry after a child is born (Rackin and Gibson-Davis 2012).

  3. 3.

    Results for women with some college fell between results for the low- and high-education groups (results available upon request).

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Acknowledgments

Support for this project was provided by grants from the Duke Population Research Institute and the Duke Social Science Research Institute’s Education and Human Development Incubator. We are grateful to the North Carolina Department of Vital Statistics for the provision of the data.

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Correspondence to Christina M. Gibson-Davis.

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Gibson-Davis, C.M., Ananat, E.O. & Gassman-Pines, A. Midpregnancy Marriage and Divorce: Why the Death of Shotgun Marriage Has Been Greatly Exaggerated. Demography 53, 1693–1715 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0510-x

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Keywords

  • Midpregnancy
  • Shotgun marriages
  • Birth rates
  • Divorce
  • Preconception marriages