Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage Following Adolescent Parenthood: Relationship to Adult Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage Following Adolescent Parenthood: Relationship to Adult Well-Being

Article excerpt

Research suggests that adult marriages confer benefits. Does marriage following a teenage birth confer benefits similar to those observed for adults? Longitudinal data from a community sample of 235 young women who gave birth as unmarried adolescents were used to examine this question. Controlling for socioeconomic status and preexisting "benefits," we found that marriage conferred small, though statistically significant, benefits with regard to less economic adversity and less marijuana and polydrug use but no observable benefits with regard to alcohol or other drug use, poverty, psychological well-being, or high school completion, in contrast to prior findings. We conclude that in addition to the marriage benefits observed, stable intimate relationships, whether marital or not, appear to confer psychological benefits in this sample.

Key Words: marriage, nonmarital childbearing, selection, teenage childbearing.

Research consistently has shown that relative to the unmarried, married adults experience greater well-being on a number of factors, including greater affluence over the life course, less sub- stance abuse, less depression, lower suicide rates, better physical health, longer lives, greater happiness and well-being, more emotional satisfaction with partners, and better sex lives (e.g., Burman & Margolin, 1992; Coombs, 1991; DeKlyen, Brooks-Gunn, McLanahan, & Knab, 2006; Hirschl, Altobelli, & Rank, 2003; Ross, Mirowsky, & Goldsteen, 1990; Stack & Wasserman, 1995; Waite, 1995). These benefits have been observed not only in the United States but in other developed nations as well (Stack & Eshleman, 1998). The economic benefits of marriage are presumed to arise from an economy of scale (i.e., "two can live cheaper than one"), and greater well-being is presumed to stem from the relationship itself in terms of the availability of mutual support, nurturance, companionship, and so forth (Brown, 2000; Lamb, Lee, & DeMaris, 2003). A critical issue is the causal direction of the effects: Does marriage confer enhanced well-being or are persons with greater well-being more likely to be selected as marriage partners? Most earlier studies used cross-sectional data to compare married and unmarried persons and thus could not rule out a selection effect.

Results to date on this question of causal direction have been mixed largely because there is a paucity of longitudinal studies that have attempted to disentangle the direction of these effects. An exception is Lamb et al.'s (2003) longitudinal study in which they tested for, but found no evidence of, a selection effect with regard to depression, education, employment, income, or physical disabilities. In fact, the authors found that marriage reduced depression, consistent with findings of Simon (2002) and Simon and Marcussen (1999). In contrast, two longitudinal studies in Europe, one from Germany (Stutzer & Frey, 2006) and the other from Norway (Mastekaasa, 1992), found evidence of selection effects. In both studies, single persons who had greater well-being were more likely to marry. Data from the U.S. Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study showed that mental illness among single mothers reduced the likelihood of transition to marriage (Teitler & Reichman, 2008). Similar results were obtained by Forfhofer, Kessler, Story, and Gotlib (1996) using data from the National Comorbidity Study. Thus, the issue of selection effects versus marriage benefits has yet to be resolved due to the few longitudinal studies available, the relatively short period of following unmarried individuals, and the inconsistent results to date.

The issue of selectivity versus beneficial effects of marriage is more than a theoretical one. Current U.S. policy promotes marriage, particularly among poor single mothers, on the basis of the premise that marriage is beneficial for both parents and that marriage confers economic benefits that will help reduce welfare use. …

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