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Finding a Mate? The Marital and Cohabitation Histories of Unwed Mothers.

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Personal Author: 
Lichter, Daniel T.
Graefe, Deborah Roempke.
Technical Report
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In this paper, we use retrospective family life history data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG95) to examine union formation processes among American women aged 15-44. We compare the marital histories of teen mothers with those of older unmarried mothers, as well as women without nonmarital births. Our results (from estimated hazards models) indicate that a nonmarital birth is associated with significant reductions in the likelihood of being married at age 35. At age 14, for example, girls who had a nonmarital birth are 58% more likelihood to be never married at age 35 than girls who did not have a nonmarital birth (i.e., 20.6% vs. 13.0%). Conversely, nonmarital childbearing is positively associated with the subsequent formation of informal or cohabiting unions, but out-of-wedlock childbearing reduces the likelihood that cohabiting unions lead to marriage. Our life table analysis also indicates that only 73.9% of women who had a nonmarital birth can expect to be married by age 40, which is roughly 20 percent lower than women who did not have a nonmarital birth. The lower marriage rate among unwed mothers is not due to selection alone. The cumulative marriage rates of women with unwed pregnancies that are terminated (by miscarriage or abortion) are more similar to women without nonmarital births than to women with nonmarital births. The substantive implication is that causal arguments regarding the long-term negative effect of nonmarital childbearing on subsequent marriage cannot be rejected. (Author abstract)

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