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Marriage among Unwed Mothers: Whites, Blacks and Hispanics Compared

Deborah Roempke Graefe and Daniel T. Lichter
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Vol. 34, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 2002), pp. 286-293
Published by: Guttmacher Institute
DOI: 10.2307/3097747
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3097747
Page Count: 8
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Marriage among Unwed Mothers: Whites, Blacks and Hispanics Compared
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Abstract

CONTEXT: Much of the debate over welfare reauthorization centers on whether marriage promotion should play a key role. Few studies, however, have tracked the marriage and divorce histories of unwed mothers, including minority women, who are often the main targets of welfare reform. METHODS: Data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth were used to estimate the hazards of the transition to marriage for women who delayed childbearing until marriage and for teenagers and older women who had a nonmarital first birth, and of the transition to divorce among the ever-married. Life-table estimates calculated with these estimated transition hazards show the cumulative proportions married and divorced, by race and ethnicity, for women who had a nonmarital first birth and for those who did not. RESULTS: Nonmarital childbearing reduces the likelihood of marriage. Some 82% of white women, 62% of Hispanics and 59% of blacks who had a nonmarital first birth had married by age 40; the corresponding proportions among those who avoided nonmarital childbearing were 89%, 93% and 76%, respectively. There is no evidence to suggest that the negative effect of nonmarital childbearing on marriage is caused by other observed or unobserved differences between unwed mothers and women who remain childless until marriage. Nonmarital childbearing raises the likelihood of divorce among unwed mothers who eventually marry, a finding that also varies by race and ethnicity. CONCLUSIONS: Marriage promotion policies should focus on lowering rates of nonmarital childbearing. Reductions in nonmarital childbearing, however, may not eliminate long-standing discrepancies in marriage rates between black and white women.

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