Fertility and marriage in an era of family change

Sarah R Hayford, University of Pennsylvania


In this dissertation, I examine the evolving relationship between marriage and fertility in the United States in the late 20th century. Despite continued changes in marriage and divorce rates, the timing of fertility and marriage, and the proportion of fertility that takes place outside of marriage, American birth rates have been essentially stable since 1975. I use decomposition techniques to analyze this stability in fertility. I find that increases in both marital and non-marital fertility have compensated for the decline in the proportion of women who are married; increases in non-marital fertility are more important than increases in marital fertility for African American women and for white women after 1985. I then consider how the changing marital context of fertility has affected individual women's childbearing trajectories. I use both logistic regression and event history analysis to analyze the relationship between marital status at first birth, subsequent changes in marital status, and second and third birth rates, as well as variations in this relationship by race, age at first birth, and education level. These analyses uncover persistent differences in fertility between women with marital and non-marital first births that cannot be attributed to marital status at a single time, but are related to marital histories over the life course. I find no evidence that the relationship between marital status and fertility after the first birth has changed over time. Finally, I address the recent argument that rising rates of non-marital fertility are associated with increasing inequality, largely because of the correlation between non-marital fertility, early childbearing, and low educational attainment. Canonical correlation analysis of the overall relationship between family formation and fertility on one hand and various measures of socio-economic status on the other hand shows a consistent relationship between social disadvantage and early, non-marital, and unwanted fertility. There is no evidence that this relationship has become stronger over the second half of the twentieth century. Overall, these findings show that marriage is still a distinct context for bearing children, with different implications for fertility than singlehood. Although fewer women are marrying, marriage and childbearing have not become completely “deinstitutionalized.”

Subject Area

Demographics|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Hayford, Sarah R, "Fertility and marriage in an era of family change" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179745.