Bridal Pregnancy and Spouse Pairing Patterns in Japan

By Raymo, James M.; Iwasawa, Miho | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Bridal Pregnancy and Spouse Pairing Patterns in Japan


Raymo, James M., Iwasawa, Miho, Journal of Marriage and Family


In this paper, we examine two aspects of recent increases in marriage preceded by pregnancy (bridal pregnancy) in Japan. Using information on 28,973 respondents to the Japanese National Fertility Surveys, we first demonstrate that increases in bridal pregnancy between 1970 and 2002 were concentrated among women without postsecondary education. We then estimate multinomial logistic regression models to evaluate change over time in the association between bridal pregnancy and patterns of educational pairing. Results indicate that bridal pregnancy is associated with a significantly higher likelihood of nonnormative educational pairing and that this relationship has become more pronounced over time. We conclude by evaluating these results in comparative context and speculating about the implications for subsequent family change in Japan.

Key Words: marriage, mate selection, pregnancy, union formation.

The link between marriage and fertility has weak- ened significantly over the past several decades in most industrialized countries (Heuveline, Timberlake, & Furstenberg, 2003). In the United States, for example, the proportion of children bom to unmarried mothers increased from 5% in 1960 to 39% in 2006 (Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2007). This trend reflects both the increasing likelihood of nonmarital conception and the decreasing likelihood of marriage in response to pregnancy (e.g., England, Wu, & Shafer, 2007). The proportion of nonmarital conceptions resulting in "shotgun marriages" declined from 60% in the early 1960s to 23% in the early 1990s (Bachu, 1999). Similar changes have occurred in most other late-marriage, lowfertility societies (e.g., Biliari, 2008; Ermisch, 2001), but the decoupling of marriage and childbearing is not a universal feature of family change.

In Japan, childbearing and marriage remain closely linked despite significant increases in sexual activity at young ages, premarital cohabitation, age at marriage, and divorce (Raymo & Iwasawa, 2008). Indeed, only 2% of all births in 2005 were registered to unmarried women (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 2007a). At the same time, however, marked increases in nonmarital conceptions and bridal pregnancy (i.e., shotgun marriages) suggest that the relationship between fertility and marriage is changing. According to recent Vital Statistics data, nearly one in three first births was conceived prior to marriage.

This distinctive pattern of family formation in Japan is a potentially valuable source of insight into the generality of findings from research based on the United States and other societies where concern about increases in nonmarital conception and the decreasing likelihood of subsequent marriage focuses largely on the unfavorable circumstances of single-parent families. An implicit, but important, assumption underlying high-profile discussions of nonmarital childbearing, well-being, and inequality in the United States is that the implications of nonmarital conceptions should be less pronounced in a country such as Japan, where nearly all births resulting from premarital conceptions are "legitimated" by marriage.

It is important to recognize, however, that research on "shotgun weddings" in the United States also provides strong theoretical and empirical reason to question this assumption. Several studies have shown that couples who marry in response to pregnancy fare worse, on average, than those who do not. For example, shotgun marriages are characterized by lower levels of marital quality (Knab & Harknett, 2006) and higher rates of dissolution (Teachman, 2002). Selection is one important mechanism linking bridal pregnancy to subsequent well-being. In the United States, both nonmarital childbearing and bridal pregnancy are increasingly concentrated among women with lower levels of educational attainment (England et al., 2007). Other explanations emphasize the relative fragility of marriages that are "event driven" rather than "relationship driven" (Knab & Harknett, 2006). …

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