The Jinx of Unwed Fertility

Why women without a wedding band continue to bear children remains a puzzle, especially since research continues to demonstrate how such behavior disadvantages both mother and child. Exploring the maternal side of those disadvantages, a study by scholars at Penn State and Cornell reveals how young women who “jumped the gun” face handicaps in persuading a good man to commit to matrimony or finding happiness in marriage when they do. Crunching data containing the relationship and marital histories of nearly 4,000 women, ages 35 to 44, from the fifth wave (1995) of the National Survey of Family Growth, the study found that women who bear children out of wedlock stand statistically apart (p<.05) from their peers who do not in many measures: They are less likely to be married (44 percent v. 73 percent); more likely to be living alone, whether previously married or not (48 percent v. 23 percent); and more likely to cohabit, whether previously married or not (8 percent v. 4 percent). Among the women who, by age 40, had married at least once, premarital fertility significantly correlated with most variables measuring marital stability or instability. Whereas 58 percent of married women without premarital fertility were in first marriages and only 20 percent were in their second, their peers who had jumped the gun were more likely to be in second or third marriages. Among those who had jumped the gun as teens, only 33 percent were in their first marriage; among those who had jumped the gun as adults, the figure was 40 percent. Yet the aggregating of data by the timing of premarital fertility showed no statistical differences between whenthese women gave birth, only between each category of women by fertility timing relative to the women without premarital fertility. Statistically significant differences did emerge, however, between the timing of fertility among women who have cohabitated but never married by age 40: those who gave birth as teen
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