Changes in the Socioeconomic Gradient in Nonmarital Childbearing across Two U.S. Cohorts

Alicia VanOrman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The dramatic growth in the prevalence of nonmarital fertility warrants a re-examination of how women’s socioeconomic resources shape nonmarital childbearing. Drawing on a rational-choice model of fertility, prior research focused on births during the 1980s and found a negative relationship between women’s socioeconomic resources and nonmarital childbearing. Since then, the nature of marriage and nonmarital childbearing has shifted and economic inequality increased, such that previously identified relationships may have changed. Drawing on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and 1997 cohorts, this study compares two cohorts of women to examine change in how economic factors shape the risk of a nonmarital first birth. Preliminary results suggest that the linkages between wages, employment and education and nonmarital childbearing weakened across cohorts, whereas school enrollment became a more important predictor. These preliminary findings suggest we made need to reconsider how women’s own economic resources influence nonmarital fertility.

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Presented in Session 149: Family and the Economy