Academic journal article Demographic Research

Declining Health Disadvantage of Non-Marital Children: Explanation of the Trend in the Czech Republic 1990-2010

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Declining Health Disadvantage of Non-Marital Children: Explanation of the Trend in the Czech Republic 1990-2010

Article excerpt

Abstract

BACKGROUND

There has been a rapid spread of non-marital childbearing in the Czech Republic during the last two decades. At the same time, the low birth weight rates of children born to married and unmarried mothers have converged.

OBJECTIVE

The goal is to explain the diminishing gap in low birth weight. Two explanations are assessed: the changing selection of unmarried mothers from disadvantaged socio-demographic groups, and increasing social support for unmarried mothers.

METHODS

Data from birth register are analysed. Marital status (married vs. unmarried) disparities in low birth weight are modelled using logistic regression. Further analyses are then performed with a detailed measurement of partnership status. This detailed variable is partially missing and is thus supplemented with multiple imputation.

RESULTS

The main explanation for the narrowing gap between the outcomes of children born to married and unmarried mothers is the increasing social support for unmarried mothers. Unmarried motherhood has become less detrimental to a child's birth weight net of maternal demographic characteristics. The decline in selection from disadvantaged socio-demographic groups has also contributed to the convergence. However, the convergence of birth weight trends towards marital children seems to refer mostly to children of partnered mothers, with children of single mothers lagging behind.

CONCLUSIONS

The positive trends in the health of non-marital children are interpreted as being the result of the increasing institutionalisation of parenthood in non-marital unions. However, this does not apply to unpartnered motherhood, which continues to represent a health disadvantage.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

Family status is an important predictor of foetal development and infant health. Studies from several European countries, the United States, and Canada show that non-marital children face a higher risk of foetal death and stillbirth (Arntzen et al. 1996; Balayla, Azoulay, and Abenhaim 2011; Carlson et al. 1999), preterm birth (El-Sayed, Tracy, and Galea 2012; Kramer et al. 1998; Koupilová et al. 1998; Shah, Zao, and Ali 2011), low birth weight (Castro Martín 2010; Kirchengast et al. 2007; Koupilová et al. 1998; Shah, Zao, and Ali 2011; Vågerö et al. 2007), and infant death (Arntzen et al. 1996, Balayla, Azoulay, and Abenhaim 2011; Koupil et al. 2006; Rychta?íková and Demko 2001; Salihu et al. 2004) than do children of married mothers. However, less is known about the time trends of this disadvantage. Does the disadvantage of non-marital children persist when childbearing outside marriage becomes common? And if not, what are the driving forces that change the disparity? This paper addresses these questions using data from the Czech Republic, a country where the proportion of children born outside marriage has increased more than fourfold in only two decades.

1.1 The spread of non-marital childbearing

The rise of non-marital childbearing has been one of the most remarkable changes in reproductive behaviour in the Czech Republic since 1989.2 Figure 1 shows that the proportion of children born outside marriage rose linearly from 9% to 40% between 1990 and 2010. The spread of unmarried cohabitation seems to have played an important role in the rise of non-marital childbearing. Studies based on survey data suggest that unmarried cohabitation has spread in the Czech population (Kreidl and Stípková 2012; Sobotka et al. 2008; Thornton and Philipov 2009) and parenthood within cohabitation has increased (Hamplová 2007). On the other hand, unpartnered motherhood also seems to be becoming more common (Hamplová 2007).

Unfortunately, data on the partnership arrangements of unmarried mothers prior to the 2000s are very scarce. The birth register provides information about whether unmarried mothers identified the fathers of their children, but only since 2007 (see section 3 for details). …

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