Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Union Formation among Men in the U.S.: Does Having Prior Children Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Union Formation among Men in the U.S.: Does Having Prior Children Matter?

Article excerpt

Our study investigates whether fatherhood, and specifically involvement with nonresident children, influence men's entrance into marital and cohabiting unions. Using the National Survey of Families and Households, our findings suggest that neither resident nor nonresident children affect men's chances of entering a new marriage, but nonresident children have a positive effect on cohabitation. The positive association between nonresident children and men's union formation is not uniform; instead, we find that it is involvement with nonresident children, specifically visitation, that enhances men's chances of forming new unions. Whereas women's obligations to children from prior unions represent a resource drain that lowers their chances of union formation, our analysis suggests that involved nonresident fathers are more likely to enter subsequent unions than other men.

Key Words: child support, cohabitation, fatherhood, remarriage, visitation.

Whereas it is well known children from prior relationships lower women's chances of marriage and remarriage (Becker, Landes, & Michael, 1977; Bumpass, Sweet, & Martin, 1990; Clarkberg, Stolzenberg, & Waite, 1995; Peters, 1986; Smock, 1990), the effect of prior children on men's union formation is less clear. In part, this gap in knowledge about men exists because children are far more likely to reside with their mothers than their fathers should a union end, and the role of residential parent entails considerable breadwinning and day-to-day caretaking responsibilities. For instance, it is argued that these responsibilities may reduce the time available to search for a spouse and deter potential spouses who recognize that they will be taking on stepchildren should marriage occur (Becker et al.; Lampard & Peggs, 1999).

However, the focus on mothers in past research ignores the possibility that fathers' parenting responsibilities may impact their chances of forming new unions; the number of single, custodial fathers (including both never-married and divorced) is growing, and many nonresident fathers play substantial roles in their children's lives. Drawing on data from the National Survey of Families and Households, our study investigates two questions. First, we examine whether fatherhood (the existence of resident and/or nonresident children) is associated with men's likelihood of entering either cohabiting or marital unions. Second, because the majority of single fathers live apart from their children, we evaluate a potential mechanism for the effect of nonresident children by testing whether it is explained by men's involvement, here defined as economic support and visitation. We extend knowledge on the effect of prior children on men's union formation by incorporating cohabitation and involvement with nonresident children, two essential features of single fathers' lives.

Investigating the relationship between prior children and men's union formation is vital because high levels of divorce and growth in nonmarital childbearing mean that increasing proportions of men in the United States live apart from at least some of their biological children. Most broadly, these demographics suggest the importance of documenting complex parenting situations and their impact on union formation: Half of all marriages today are remarriages, and women and men with nonresident stepchildren-a spouse or partner's children who live elsewhere-- currently account for over one half of all stepparents (Stewart, 2001). Additionally, if we wish to understand the process of union formation among men, a topic generating much attention given the retreat from marriage over the past few decades, then we need to evaluate the possible effect of resident and nonresident children.


Men have a higher rate of remarriage than women and remarry more rapidly (Glick, 1984), and this difference appears to be explained in part by women's obligations to children. …

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