Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Planned and Unplanned Childbearing among Unmarried Women

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Planned and Unplanned Childbearing among Unmarried Women

Article excerpt

This paper uses data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth to examine social, demographic, and economic correlates of planned and unplanned childbearing among unmarried women. I look at who has births outside of marriage, who plans births outside of marriage, and how childbearing patterns vary for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. l find that low education increases the likelihood of planned and unplanned childbearing outside of marriage for all race and ethnic groups. The same holds for cohabitation, although effects on planned births are notably stronger for Hispanics than others. Finally, spending time in a single-parent family as a child increases planned and unplanned childbearing among White women, with modest or no effects among Blacks or Hispanics. Results suggest ways in which the meaning of childbearing depends on the context in which it occurs.

Key Words: birth planning status, cohabitation, family change, nonmarital childbearing.

Nonmarital childbearing has become an increasingly important phenomenon-demographically, socially, and politically. Although considerable research has focused on identifying differentials in nonmarital childbearing, particularly among teen mothers, there has been little work on the factors associated with planned childbearing outside of marriage. Differentiating between planned and unplanned childbearing among unmarried women has important theoretical and policy implications.

Today, about one in every three U.S, births occurs outside of marriage (Ventura, Martin, Curtin, Menacker, & Hamilton, 2001). The proportion of births to unmarried women has risen monotonically over time (Smith, Morgan, & KoropeckyjCox, 1996), and attitudes toward nonmarital fertility have become progressively more tolerant (Pagnini & Rindfuss, 1993). Dramatic increases in cohabitation and associated delays in marriage have changed the composition and character of nonmarital births. Unmarried mothers now tend to be older (Ventura et al., 1995), to have other children (Wu, Bumpass, & Musick, 2001), and to be living with a partner at the time of their child's birth (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Nonmarital childbearing among recent cohorts of women has become "a substantively different demographic phenomenon than it was for women of previous cohorts" (Hoffman & Foster, 1997, p. 257).

As the link between marriage and childbearing continues to weaken, women may be increasingly likely to plan their families outside the bounds of legal marriage. Indeed, about half of recent births to unmarried women are the result of planned pregnancies (Abma, Chandra, Mosher, Peterson, & Piccinino, 1997). Although the planning status or intendedness of births is clearly relevant to how we think about childbearing in relation to marriage and cohabitation, few studies differentiate between planned and unplanned fertility or look at what factors are associated with the likelihood of planning a birth outside of marriage (exceptions are Bumpass & Brandon, 1996; Manning, 1999). Most discussions of unmarried childbearing make implicit assumptions about the planning status of births, proceeding from either a rational choice model or a concern with the unintended consequences of sexual behavior (debates in the literature have largely centered around the processes underlying teen fertility; e.g., see Geronimus & Korenman, 1993; Hoffman, Foster, & Furstenberg, 1993).

Planning status is critical in identifying the mechanisms through which key variables affect the likelihood of a birth, addressing, specifically, whether they work through differences in situational risks or intentions (Trent & Crowder [1997] make this argument with respect to adolescent birth intentions). Differences in planned and unplanned childbearing outside of marriage by race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and family setting speak to central theoretical questions regarding the costs of contraception and the acceptability of childbearing in various social contexts. …

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