Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Chicken and the Egg of Economic Disadvantage and Multiple Partner Fertility: Which Comes First in a Sample of Low-Income Women

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Chicken and the Egg of Economic Disadvantage and Multiple Partner Fertility: Which Comes First in a Sample of Low-Income Women

Article excerpt

Introduction

Women's fertility and economic well-being are inextricably linked; it has even been said that motherhood is the single greatest predictor of poverty for women (Crittenden, 2001). However, like socio-economic status, fertility is not uniform across women. Black women are disproportionately likely to be poor and to have children with multiple men, for example (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006). In this paper, using a sample of low-income, predominantly African-American, women in Illinois, I examine both the precursors and the effects of childbearing events for women's economic well-being. Specifically, I examine the trajectory into, and ramifications of, having children with multiple partners. I do this in an effort to disentangle some of the causal questions about the interaction of maternity and economic disadvantage specifically with regards to multiple partner fertility.

Prior Literature

Historically, multiple partner fertility most often occurred in serial marriages, often following the death of a partner or a divorce. Due in large part to the difficulty in measuring such blended families, in which a parent may live apart from their children of a first union or where a step-parent may take legal custody of children and refer to them as his or her own, we have few estimates as to the prevalence of multiple partner fertility families (Stewart, 2007). However, social scientists are working to rectify that. A recent study examining a nationally representative urban birth cohort found that more than a third of all parents also had a child or children by another partner, and that almost 60 percent of non-marital urban births around the turn of the millennium were multiple partner fertility births, nearly twice the rate found for all couples and three times that of married couples (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006). As Blacks are disproportionately represented among unmarried parents, it is unsurprising that the rate of multiple partner fertility is even higher for unmarried Black parents than it is for other groups (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006).

We know far more about the correlates of multiple partner fertility than we do about its implications, and as we have gained more information about multiple partner fertility families, poverty has emerged as a central challenge for many of them. Multiple partner fertility is correlated with non-marital births, having low levels of education, and parental histories of substance abuse or incarceration (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006; Mincy, 2002; Morgan & Rindfuss, 1999).

Moreover, multiple partner fertility is correlated with lower levels of both father involvement (W. D.

Manning & Smock, 1999) and child support (Manning and Smock, 2000), and is known to be associated with lower levels of kin support, despite the fact that multiple partner fertility expands the kin network (Harknett and Knab, 2007). As such, multiple partner fertility appears to create larger families while at the same time reducing the resources available to parents and children. Given all this, it is unsurprising that the rate of multiple partner fertility is much greater among the otherwise disadvantaged (Blank, 1997; Guzzo & Furstenberg, 2007).

What we know about disadvantage and fertility more generally suggests that the relationship between the two in the context of multiple partners could operate from either direction. More disadvantaged individuals have less stable relationships, perhaps due to economic pressures (Lewin, 2005); it may be that the difficulty of maintaining a first childbearing relationship with few resources disproportionately puts poor women in the multiple partner fertility risk set. Similarly, women who begin childbearing early, a population that is overwhelmingly poor, are both less likely to remain involved with their first partners and face a longer childbearing window (Morgan & Rindfuss, 1999), again making poor women more likely to enter multiple partner fertility than their wealthier counterparts. …

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