Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Adults' Fertility Expectations and Events: Associations with College Enrollment and Persistence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Young Adults' Fertility Expectations and Events: Associations with College Enrollment and Persistence

Article excerpt

The analyses described in this article investigated the association between adolescent fertility expectations and college enrollment (N = 7,838). They also explored the potential impact of fertility expectations and events on college persistence among 4-year (n = 2,605) and 2-year (n = 1,962) college students. The analysis, which used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort, showed a significant association between expectations for early parenthood and the likelihood of going to a 4-year college or 2-year college for both men and women. In addition, the authors found that pregnancies were associated with an increased risk of college dropout for women; however, if all of the estimated effect of pregnancies on the risk of dropout were causal, they would still not be a major factor contributing to educational attainment because fertile pregnancies among college women are so rare.

Key Words: college, education, expectations, fertility, pregnancy.

A growing body of research shows that the fertility patterns of women who obtain a college degree differ distinctly from those of women who attend college without earning a bachelor's degree or those who earn a high school degree but do not attend college. For example, White college-educated women in their early 40s in 2004 had an average of 1.61 births, compared to 2.06 births for women with less than a high school degree. The large majority of the difference involved unwanted or mistimed births (Musick, England, Edgington, & Kangas, 2009). College graduates also bear children at later ages, with a peak childbearing age of about age 32, compared to age 21 among women with a high school degree or less (Sullivan, 2005). Relatedly, the percentage of births that are nonmarital is substantially smaller for college graduates (7%) compared to women with just a high school diploma (53%; Mincieli, Manlove, McGarrett, Moore, & Ryan, 2007). These differences in fertility patterns are important because they shape the resources available to children and may intensify the advantages associated with maternal education.

This research applies a life course approach to better understand the social processes that link education and fertility. Prior studies have established an association between teen fertility and the likelihood of high school graduation, and these processes, which play out during adolescence, likely account for some of the higher levels of completed fertility among women without a high school degree. Yet we know relatively little, even descriptively, about how educational and fertility processes are linked in late adolescence and early adulthood, when some are enrolled in college and others are starting families (Amato et al., 2008). In this study, we used data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY; see to investigate the association between fertility (expectations as well as behavior) and college enrollment and persistence.

An important aspect of our analyses is that whereas most prior research in this area has focused on girls and young women, our analyses also included men. We anticipated that fertility expectations and behavior may have a greater association with educational attainment for women than men, because women more often have primary child-care responsibilities. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to be raising a child on their own, yet many men are cohabiting with the mother even when the birth is nonmarital. Moreover, because of changes in child support laws and enforcement, many men have financial responsibility for children even when they do not coreside with them. Thus, fathering a child might have implications for men's school completion as well.

The analyses were structured to address three research questions. First, are expectations about early parenthood associated with whether young men and women go to college? Second, do pregnancies during college contribute much to the high postsecondary dropout rates? …

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