Seven Decades of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States

Robert D. Plotnick, University of Washington

Using the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics this study examines nonmarital childbearing in the U.S. during 1920-93, a time span encompassing an enormous increase in nonmarital fertility. The study provides new data on nonmarital childbearing across time periods and across and within birth cohorts. It estimates discrete hazard models of nonmarital childbearing. The results suggest both continuity and change in the social forces related to nonmarital childbearing. Continuity because the significant associations between nonmarital childbearing and personal background characteristics in models spanning 70+ years are much like those from models based on data from the last three decades. Change because change in the nature of these associations, which reflect how personal characteristics are translated into the likelihood of nonmarital childbearing in response to shifts in preferences, norms, and incentives, accounts for essentially the entire increase in nonmarital fertility between the pre- and post-1950 periods.

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Presented in Poster Session 5: Union Formation and Dissolution, Fertility, Family and Well-being