Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multipartnered Fertility and Depression among Fragile Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Multipartnered Fertility and Depression among Fragile Families

Article excerpt

We used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the association between multipartnered fertility (MPF)-when parents have children with more than one partner-and depression. Random-effects models suggested that MPF is associated with a greater likelihood of depression, net of family structure and other covariates. These associations disappeared, however, in more conservative fixed-effects models that estimated changes in MPF as a function of changes in depression. Results also suggested that social selection may account for the link between MPF and depression for fathers (but not mothers), as depressed fathers with no MPF were more likely to have a child by a new partner four years later. Ultimately, MPF and depression may be reciprocally related and part of broader processes of social disadvantage.

Key Words: depression, Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, multipartnered fertility.

The second half of the 20th century witnessed widespread changes in family formation in the United States. Marriage was once a passage to adult status and the dominant institution that shaped individuals' lives, but individuals and families now have more alternatives through which to create and maintain kinship ties. Marriage has been delayed and become increasingly optional, and those who do marry approach the union with greater hesitancy and uncertainty (Coontz, 2005). The fragility of marriage is accompanied by other demographic trends in family formation, including a decoupling of marriage and childbearing, particularly among minorities and the less educated (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004). Nonmarital childbearing has risen steadily in recent years, and children born to unmarried parents now account for 41% of all births in the United States, including 72% of births to African Americans and 53% of births to Hispanics (Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2010). In the context of these demographic changes, family structure and relationships are fundamentally different and more complex today than they were a half century ago. These complexities imply that both adults and children experience substantial heterogeneity in living arrangements and that they increasingly negotiate their roles with fewer accompanying social norms (Cherlin, 2004).

One consequence of these recent demographic changes is that adults often have biological children with more than one partner, referred to as multipartnered fertility (MPF). Although little longitudinal research exists, MPF may have become more prevalent in recent years, particularly among certain demographic groups. In 2002, 8% of American men ages 15 to 44 reported having had children with more than one woman; among Black men ages 35 to 44 with incomes below 150% of the poverty line, 37% reported MPF (Guzzo & Furstenberg, 2007a). Additionally, tabulations from a recent urban birth cohort of children showed that, among couples who recently had a child together, 21% of married parents and 59% of unmarried parents reported MPF (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006); these percentages can only increase over time, as some mothers and fathers in this sample will have children with additional partners throughout their childbearing years. As with the decoupling of marriage and childbearing, MPF is not randomly distributed across the population; mothers and fathers who have children with multiple partners generally experience more socioeconomic disadvantage than their counterparts who have two or more children with the same partner (Carlson & Furstenberg; Guzzo & Furstenberg, 2007a; Manlove, Logan, Ikramullah, & Holcombe, 2008).

Though the prevalence of MPF may be increasing, this is not a new phenomenon. MPF often includes unmarried parents who have children together, either within or outside a relationship, but can also include married couples where one or both parents have children with more than one partner. For example, a divorced parent who remarries and has a child within his or her new marriage is considered to have MPF. …

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