Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Decoupling of Marriage and Parenthood? Trends in the Timing of Marital First Births, 1945-2002

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Decoupling of Marriage and Parenthood? Trends in the Timing of Marital First Births, 1945-2002

Article excerpt

Dramatic changes in family formation behavior occurred over the second half of the 20th century in the United States. These shifts and their implications for child and adult well-being are well documented (e.g., Cherlin, 2010; Ellwood & Jencks, 2004; McLanahan, 2004; Smock & Greenland, 2010). Americans aremarrying later, and more are remaining unmarried; divorce rates have increased; nonmarital cohabitation has become more common; more women are remaining childless; and the proportion of births taking place to unmarried women continues to rise. Some of these trends appear to have run their course-for example, divorce rates have plateaued since the 1980s (Raley & Bumpass, 2003)-but others, such as the increase in cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing, continue. Many of these trends have been particularly pronounced among women with lower levels of education (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004; S. P. Martin, 2004; Smock & Greenland, 2010).

As part of these changes, marriage and parenthood have been increasingly decoupled, both behaviorally and normatively. This decoupling has primarily been studied in terms of increased childbearing outside of marriage; research on nonmarital fertility sheds light on both the meaning of marriage and the meaning of childbearing (e.g., Edin&Kefalas, 2005; Gibson-Davis, Edin, &McLanahan, 2005). In this article, in contrast, we seek to understand the possible ramifications of family change for fertility behavior within marriage. Although the proportion of children born outside of marriage has increased rapidly, it is still the case that the majority of births-59.0% of all births in 2011-occur among married women (J. A. Martin, Hamilton, Ventura, Osterman,&Mathews, 2013), and rates of marriage and marital fertility can have a substantial impact on population-level patterns of childbearing (e.g.,Hayford, 2013). Furthermore, the United States has higher marriage rates than other countries, and most Americans eventually marry (Cherlin, 2009), suggesting that marriage still provides some perceived benefits that other union types lack. Thus, the failure to examine and understand trends in marital fertility as well as nonmarital fertility represents a key gap in current knowledge about both childbearing and the changing role of marriage.

To address this gap, we use data from 10 fertility surveys spanning six decades, harmonized into a single resource, the Integrated Fertility Survey Series (IFSS; http://www.icpsr.umich. edu/icpsrweb/IFSS/), to describe changes in the timing of marital fertility over the second half of the 20th century. We explore trends in the interval between first marriage and the first marital birth for Black and White women, with particular attention to births in the first months of marriage (i.e., births resulting from premarital conceptions), accounting for changes in age at marriage, the educational attainment of married women, and premarital fertility over the time period studied. Our focus on childbearing, which once took place almost solely within marriage, will help illuminate the changing meaning of marriage and childbearing and the link between them over a long historical period.

THE CHANGING NATURE OF MARRIAGE

Cherlin (2004) described changes in family formation behavior over the late 20th century as indicative of the "deinstitutionalization of marriage." The institutionalized marriage described by the structural-functionalists of the 1950s combined multiple functions into a single relationship: the regulation of sexual behavior; the organization of care, support, and legal recognition for children; the distribution of paid and domestic labor; and the provision of intimacy and emotional support (Thornton, Axinn, & Xie, 2007). In contemporary individualized family systems, in contrast, these functions are neither unique to marriage nor necessary for marriage. In particular, sex and childbearing outside of marriage have become widespread, underscoring that the role of marriage in regulating sexual behavior and childbearing has weakened. …

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