Academic journal article Demographic Research

Age, Relationship Status, and the Planning Status of Births

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Age, Relationship Status, and the Planning Status of Births

Article excerpt


In the United States historically, births to older mothers have been more likely to be planned than births to younger mothers, and births to unmarried women have been less likely to be planned than births to married women. As the average age of mothers has increased and more births have occurred outside of marriage in the United States, the intersection of these trends may have weakened the traditional linkage between age and birth planning status. In this article, we examine differences by maternal age in the planning status of births using the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. We find that age is strongly associated with planning status, but the association is reduced in magnitude when controlling for relationship status and is stronger for first and second births than for higher-parity births. Further, the association between union status and the planning status of births varies by race-ethnicity.

1. Introduction

Unplanned fertility3 in the United States is high relative to other developed countries, with more than a third of births between 1997 and 2002 characterized as unplanned (Chandra et al. 2005; Morgan 2003). Births that are not actively planned represent a woman's lack of control over her reproductive life and can affect other aspects of women's lives as well, such as employment and educational attainment. In addition, such births are associated with negative health consequences for both mothers and children (e.g., Crissey 2005; Hummer, Hack, and Raley 2004; Korenman, Kaestner, and Joyce 2001; Weller, Eberstein, and Bailey 1987). With such negative potential outcomes associated with unplanned fertility, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set the goal of reducing unplanned pregnancies from 50% to 30% of all U.S. pregnancies (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2000).

In order to reduce unplanned fertility, it is vital to understand the context in which unplanned births occur. Although there is a large literature examining those who have unplanned births (e.g., Henshaw 1998; Musick 2002, 2007; Finer and Henshaw 2006), much of this research fails to consider how unplanned fertility varies across the social contexts of age, union status, parity, and race-ethnicity. Instead, these characteristics are often studied by themselves or only subgroups are studied. For instance, Musick's (2002, 2007) work focuses on fertility in nonmarital and cohabiting unions, excluding unplanned fertility occurring within a marriage, while Henshaw and Finer's (Henshaw 1998; Finer and Henshaw 2006) work is largely descriptive with little multivariate analysis. There remains a need to understand the complexity and variability of unplanned fertility across the life course and across socio-demographic characteristics.

Studying unplanned births can also shed light on social norms surrounding childbearing and the family life course (Musick 2002), which is especially salient in light of the dramatic demographic changes occurring among mothers in the United States. Since 1970, the average age at childbearing has increased, but this increase has been unevenly distributed across the population. Simultaneously, a growing proportion of births now take place outside of marriage (McLanahan 2004; Martin 2004). It is not clear whether social norms regarding the timing of childbearing, the relationship context of childbearing, and their intersection have changed to accompany these behavioral shifts. In this analysis, we use data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth to assess socio-demographic variation in the likelihood that recent births in the United States were planned. We focus on age and relationship context as the primary independent variables because past research shows these variables to be the central stratifying factors in the planning status of births (e.g., Chandra et al. 2005; Finer and Henshaw 2006), and because age and partnership are key factors in determining the normative context for childbearing. …

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