The Marital Behavior of Single Mothers in Comparative Perspective

Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Duke University

This paper analyzes the marital transitions of nearly 20,000 unmarried mothers, whose gave birth between 1940 and 2004. With data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), I find that the majority of unmarried mothers marry, though the likelihood that mothers married within a few years of a child’s birth have decreased substantially. Blacks show particularly marked declines in marriage likelihood, as black women who gave birth after 1990 had marriage odds that were 60% lower than black women who gave birth before 1960. The median survival time until first marriage has also increased for all groups, and contemporary women with a non-marital birth were also much more likely to have a second non-marital birth than to marry. Findings underscore the temporal and theoretical separation that exists between births and marriages in the United States, and have important implications for the family formation experiences of children.

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Presented in Session 66: Marriage Formation in Historical and Comparative Perspective