Academic journal article Family Relations

The Links between Premarital Parenthood, Meanings of Marriage, and Marital Outcomes

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Links between Premarital Parenthood, Meanings of Marriage, and Marital Outcomes

Article excerpt

The Links Between Premarital Parenthood, Meanings of Marriage, and Marital Outcomes*

Using a longitudinal sample of 373 Black and White newlyweds from the Early Years of Marriage Study, we examined the effects of premarital parenthood on meanings of marriage and the consequent effects of these meanings on the risk of divorce by the 4th year of the couples' marriages. Results indicated that premarital parents were significantly more likely than nonparent couples to mention practical advantages of marriage in year I (e.g., financial security, having a home, spouse is/will be a good parent). Results of Cox regressions indicated that for premarital parents, perceiving practical advantages of marriage in year 1 reduced their risk of divorce by 85%. Results are discussed in terms of the adjusting family-life-education and treatment needs of premarital parents compared with nonparent couples and the consequences.for their marital stability.

Key Words: divorce, income differences, marital meanings, premarital parenthood, race.

The vast majority of studies that examine premarital parenthood examine the social and economic prospects of single childbearers and their children (Duncan & Hoffman, 1990; Foster, Jones, & Hoffman, 1998; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Chase-Lansdale, 1989; Furstenberg, Brooks-- Gunn, & Morgan, 1987; Thornberry, Smith, & Howard, 1997). Many also focus on the evidence that premarital parenthood increases the risk of divorce (Billy, Landale, & McLaughlin, 1986; Thornberry et al., 1997). Yet surprisingly little is known about whether premarital parents who marry have different meanings of marriage from nonparent couples and whether these meanings increase their risk of divorce. In this article, we use longitudinal data from a sample of Black and White married couples to examine the meanings of marriage among premarital parents and nonparents in year 1 of marriage and the subsequent effects of these meanings on couples' risk of divorce by year 4. We also assess whether the effect of these meanings on the risk of divorce varies by race and income and whether the effects are similar for husbands and wives. The examination of the links between premarital parenthood, meanings of marriage, and divorce has implications for educators and mental health practitioners.

Premarital Parenthood and Marriage

Marriage for never-married mothers has been labeled as one of the few paths to economic security for women (Foster et al., 1998; Furstenberg et al., 1987). Nonetheless, research has shown that the decision to marry also can be a risky strategy for unmarried mothers (Foster et al., 1998; Furstenberg et al., 1987). Adolescents who bear children before marrying are more likely to divorce or separate than are those who marry and conceive after marriage (Billy et al., 1986; Thornberry et al., 1997). As Furstenberg (1976) noted, "Being an unwed mother occurs because it is the most desirable of several undesirable alternatives ... [teen mothers] are unusually sensitive to the hazards of marriage" (p. 64). Furthermore, poor women, among whom unmarried mothers are largely counted, are more likely to marry when they are employed or when there are more men in the marriage market above poverty level (McLaughlin & Lichter, 1997). Thus, an unmarried mother's decision to marry may be deliberate and grounded in economic and social hardship.

The first goal of this study was to compare in the lst year of marriage the meanings of marriage for spouses who enter marriage with a child with those who do not. Based on research describing premarital parents (Furstenberg, 1976; McLaughlin & Lichter, 1997), we expected that in the Ist year of marriage, functional meanings of marriage (e.g., financial security, spouse will be a good parent) will be more salient for premarital parents than nonparents.

Meanings of Marriage and the Link to Marital Functioning

Jerome Bruner (1990) argued that the selves and lives we construct are the outcomes of the process of meaning construction, which is embedded in a culture of meaning. …

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