From the woman is pregnant) was prevalent

From the 1960s onwards, there has been a substantial increasein the number of out-of-wedlock births in the US. This is due to a combinationof variables, both the rise of reproductive rights and employment rights forwomen, along with changes in attitudes towards what is considered “the norm” interms of marriage and childbearing. The literature already written on thissubject seems to agree with this, with some factors being more significant thanothers.One theory explaining this increase is the drop in shotgunmarriages.

Up until the early 1970s, the custom of shotgun marriages (enforcedmarriages that take place due to the fact that the woman is pregnant) wasprevalent in the US. Since then, it is believed that “The decline in shotgunmarriage accounts for a significant fraction of the increase in out-of-wedlockfirst births” (Akerlof et al, 1996, p.277). As well as this, Akerlof et al(1996)  state that technology shocks suchas the increased use of contraceptives, in addition to the legalisation ofabortion in 1973 following the well-known Roe vs Wade case, have contributed tothe decline. The landmark Roe vs Wade case, won by Norma McCorvey, argued thatit was a woman’s decision whether to terminate her pregnancy and resulted inthe United States Supreme Court making the decision to legalise abortionnationwide.

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 This theory of increasedknowledge of abortion or contraceptive services leans away from the notion thatwelfare incentives and job shortages in the labour market will affect thenumber of out-of-wedlock births, which is another widely accepted theory. Researchon the frequency of out-of-wedlock births has been divided into rates fordifferent races, in this case black people vs white people. Prior to Akerlof etal (1996), research showed that in 1965 the out-of-wedlock birth rate for blackpeople was 24%. Over the next 25 years it had increased to 64% and the white out-of-wedlockbirth rate increased from 3.1% to 18%.

It is safe to presume that there is alink between the decline in shotgun marriages and the increase in the reproductivechoices of women, as “the shotgun marriage ratio began its decline at almostthe same time as the advent of female contraception for unmarried women and thelegalisation of abortion.” (Akerlof et al, 1996, p.279). It follows logic that increasedreproductive rights would lead to less unplanned pregnancies, as less women whodon’t want children at the time will fall pregnant, and through Akerlof et al’s(1996) research we can see that there is also a link between them and thenumber of out-of-wedlock births. Before constructing a model, they presented 3tables, ranging from 1965 to 1989, comparing vital statistics (e.

g. births,fertility rates), experience of unmarried women (e.g. sexual participation, useof the pill) and a third table running a regression on his data. Their researchdid indeed show that out-of-wedlock births increased from 400,000 to 1.2million from 1970 to 1990 and he used this data to create a model in the formof a decision tree, showing the payoffs for both men and women depending onwhether there was a promise of marriage or not.Whilst this research supported Akerlof et al’s (1996) initialhypothesis of technology shocks being the major cause, there are others whohave argued that prohibiting abortion does not increase teen or out-of-wedlockbirth rates.

Further data shows that “Small declines in access were related tosmall declines among in-wedlock births; out-of-wedlock births were relativelyunaffected.” (Kane and Staiger, 1996, p.467). Women in the US had faced largeboundaries when trying to access abortion, which included reduced Medicaidfunding for it and even increased distances from abortion clinics.

One wouldexpect that this would lead to an increase in teen, out-of-wedlock births butKane and Staiger’s (1996) research revealed that teen birth rates had in factdecreased overall and that the change was mainly among in-wedlock births. Oneexplanation of this can be seen through a model which states that “pregnancy isan endogenous decision.” (Kane and Staiger, 1996, p.

468). This means that womenare more likely to find having a child more attractive after they becomepregnant themselves, not due to other external factors. Kane and Staiger (1996)used census data of out-of-wedlock and in-wedlock births per woman, distancefrom abortion clinics and levels of Medicaid funding over 14 years to constructthis model. The decision to have an abortion comes after the woman has alreadybecome pregnant and therefore can decide whether or not parenthood isattractive to them, which is new information they receive. Therefore, “abortionworks as an insurance policy to limit the downside risk when that informationis negative.

” (Kane and Staiger, 1996, p.468) which means that improved accessto abortion may result in higher birth rates due to the fact that there is lessrisk and consequently women may be more complacent with contraception or couldbe less likely to practice abstinence. Once they gain this new information,they may feel differently about parenthood and decide to have the baby,resulting in more births. The model created was based on the probability ofwhether the woman thinks a birth will be in-wedlock or not and will depend onhow pessimistic the woman is and her cost of abortion. To ensure that thecorrelations found in their data were correct, birth rates from before therewere discrete changes in access are used and results were compared acrossdifferent sample groups.As mentioned before, another major theory as to whyout-of-wedlock births may increase over time is due to increased welfareincentives, which is contrary to what is claimed by Akerlof et al (1996), whobelieved they are not a factor. A woman in the US may be more likely to havechildren out-of-wedlock as increased support from welfare reduces the need ofanother partner and can increase the woman’s confidence in raising the child.”In 1990 nearly 700,000 teenage girls…became pregnant out-of-wedlock, and halfof them carried the pregnancy to term.

Soon after giving birth, most of thesegirls applied for and were awarded AFDC benefits.” (An et al, 1993, p.195),showing that there is a strong case for this hypothesis. As well as increased welfarereceipt, a woman’s background and characteristics can also affect whether shechooses to receive benefits, in particular whether or not her mother was onwelfare prior to her and what her current economic situation is.

Having amother on welfare can make it more acceptable for following generations as itis seen as the norm and therefore growing up in a family that is not in work”may cause young women to relatively undervalue opportunities in the labourmarket that may be an alternative to childbearing.” (An et al, 1993, p.196). Wecan also assume that levels of education and welfare receipt are closelylinked, and so mothers who have received more education are less likely to beon welfare and therefore are less likely to have daughters who give birthout-of-wedlock. In order to create a model and test this theory, An et al(1993) used 20 years of data on women aged between 19 and 25 in the late 1980sand set out to establish a relationship between out-of-wedlock births andapplications for welfare. A “Sequential decision model” (An et al, 1993, p.198)was constructed based on the probability that an unmarried teenager decides togive birth and consequently receive benefits. What was found was that theteenager’s mothers who were more educated and were not on welfare were morelikely to have daughters who did not give birth out-of-wedlock.

Following on from the idea that parents’ backgrounds canexplain changes in births, parents’ attitudes and values that put emphasis onresponsibility can have a large effect on pregnancy rates. Studies show that”when adolescents and their parents hold values that stress responsibility, theadolescent’s chances of experiencing an out-of-wedlock childbirth aresignificantly reduced.” (Hanson et al, 1987, p.241), moreover the educationalexpectations put upon their children in terms of schooling, as well asreligious education, further reduces this rate. In particular, religious viewscan reduce out-of-wedlock births as many religions are against premaritalsexual activity. Counterintuitively, greater knowledge of contraceptives andsex education doesn’t appear to reduce this number. Akerlof et al (1996) andKane and Staiger (1996) would argue that increased knowledge and awareness ofthese services would have the opposite effect but many women still do not havethe correct knowledge and so sex education can often be ineffective.

Hanson etal (1987) believe that for education to be effective, it must be paired with aresponsible attitude also. They created a model which takes into account thedifferent types of attitudes and values that were mentioned earlier with datafrom the base year 1980 that was achieved in the form of a survey of 10,000women who had never been married and weren’t pregnant. Follow-up surveys wereconducted in 1982 and 1984 to ensure that the variables only affectedchildbearing prior to the pregnancy. The results showed that “females who rankin the top quartile on these values are at least 23% less likely to experiencean out-of-wedlock childbirth than those who rank in the bottom quartile.

” And”having well-disciplined behaviour reduces the chances of experiencing an out-of-wedlockbirth by 24% for black adolescents and 34% for white adolescents.” (Hanson etal, 1987, p.248), which agrees with their initial hypothesis. Since the 1960s, there has been a shift away from marriage ingeneral (not just an increase in teen pregnancy) causing increasedout-of-wedlock births. “In part because of the emergence of norms that sanctionsexual intimacy and childbearing outside of marriage, the once strongconnection between marriage and fertility has weakened considerably.

” (Gibson-Davis,2011, p.264), showing that both women and men are leaning away from marriageand towards more appropriate alternatives for themselves. These includecohabitation, which is no longer seen as just a prelude to marriage, but asubstitute, as well as an increase in lifelong non-marriage (Lee and Payne,2010). In 1960, 3% of mothers with a child who was at least 36 months old gotmarried, compared to 13% in 1990 (Ellwood and Jencks, 2004), revealing a trendover time not only in out-of-wedlock births, but in the length of time womenare waiting to marry and that age at which they do. The median ages at whichmen and women in the US are marrying have increased by 21 and 25 percentrespectively from 1970 to 2009, which can in part be attributed to thepreviously mentioned alternative lifestyle choices, for example cohabitation,as cohabitating couples who eventually marry will do so much later (Lee andPayne, 2010).Marriage in the US is declining, with 76.5 marriages out of1000 unmarried women in 1970 reducing to 34.

8 marriages in 2008, and the reasonsfor this can be split into two types: cultural and demographic/economic asshown by Lee and Payne (2010). The cultural theory refers to changes inAmerican culture since the 1960s, in particular the gradual devaluing ofmarriage. Americans are now more likely to prioritise their own individualneeds, with large numbers believing that marriage lacks purpose and doesn’tfurther fulfil their lives. This may seem counterintuitive as marriage is oftenseen as a decision that leaves both the man and the woman happier andfinancially better-off. Willis and Haaga (1996) pointed out that there are”advantages of pooling incomes and labour power to ensure acceptable levels ofinvestment in children.” which would mean that having children in-wedlockshould be favourable and increase financial security, however more and moreAmericans are failing to see these benefits as more significant than notmarrying.

Another possible reason for this shift in culture is the rise of”secular individualism” Popenoe (2007). Increasing numbers of people areleaning away from religion, which would account for a large increase inout-of-wedlock births due to many religions condemning premarital sexualrelations and promoting celibacy. Furthermore, throughout history marriage andreligion have been intrinsically linked due to unions often being based onreligious belief. Lee and Payne (2010) show that on one hand the currentcultural climate “de-emphasises the importance of marriage, cultivates approvalof alternatives to marriage, and diminishes the value of commitment to others.”However, a further theory for the decline in marriage rates hypothesises thatlower income people may value marriage more than those better-off, andtherefore choose to marry much later or not at all. It is suggested that poorerpeople will wait to marry until they possess financial stability, in order toensure a successful marriage in which both parties have secure jobs and moneyfor a home or the wedding itself (Lee and Payne, 2010). This will result inmore couples choosing cohabitation over marriage and having childrenout-of-wedlock.

Whilst cultural changes are a major factor in explaining thechanges in marriage rates, demographic/economic factors also play a large part,specifically the roles of women in society, with the rise of feminism and theunderstanding that women’s roles in the labour force are crucial to economicgrowth. Becker (1981) believed that within a marriage, traditionally the manwould specialise in the labour market whereas the woman would specialise indomestic labour, however over time women’s roles have become more prominent inthe labour market. As women become more self-sufficient, there is less need forthem to rely on a partner for financial stability, and so many are unlikely tosee marriage as a necessity. On the other hand, in an ever-growing economywomen’s roles become not only more important to increase growth, but also moreattractive to potential partners and so could in fact increase the probabilitythat a woman will marry. In any case, we know that women are at least marryinglater, which will allow them to achieve financial stability and also give themtime to gain more qualifications, both of which make them a more attractivepartner (Lee and Payne, 2010).Whilst women are now a more significant group in theworkforce, they are still at a disadvantage when it comes to marriage andchildbearing. Willis (1999, p.

S33) theorises that “fathers can shift the costsof child rearing to single mothers.” which is explained by a model involvingthe decisions and payoffs of the man and the woman. In cases of out-of-wedlockbirths, it is often up to the mother to do most of the childrearing and fathersare expected to pay child support. A father can offer to pay child support to amother with low income in order to improve the quality of life of the child,however, if the mother has a higher income, the father may choose to contributemuch less, or nothing at all.

This means that it could be more desirable forlow income men to father children with multiple higher-earning women than tohave a child in-wedlock and face higher costs and more responsibility (Willis,1999). Women bear the responsibility of using contraception or potentiallyneeding to have an abortion due to an unwanted pregnancy, as well as takingcare of the child should she get pregnant, with no guarantee of marriage fromher partner. With improvements in technology and access to these services,women may no longer need this promise of marriage, however some women are stillleft at a disadvantage. Akerlof et al (1996) created 2 models in which toillustrate this: the first model showed that decreased abortion costs/increasedaccess to contraception means there is no longer incentive for women to obtaina guarantee of marriage from sexual partners.

These women have an advantageover women who are not likely to get abortions, for religious reasons orotherwise, who may want promises of marriage but they can’t be assured it willhappen. This, along with the fact that their male partners can engage in sexualactivity without having to take on parental responsibility leads to women ingeneral being at a disadvantage and the “feminisation of poverty” (Akerlof etal, 1996, p.277). As we can see, there are various different theories for theincrease in out-of-wedlock births. Some research shows that technologicaladvances, as well as increased knowledge of these new services account for theincrease, other research shows that it is in fact the structure of marriageitself, along with cultural changes within the US that explains this change.Much of the data is conflicting, with different authors attributing oppositeeffects to the same variable. It is clear that no one factor alone explainsthese variations and that a combination of factors is at work.

ProjectplanThis dissertation aims to explain the changes inout-of-wedlock childbirths from the 1960s to today, with a focus on the UnitedStates. There is currently a large amount of literature already analysing thistopic, specifically for the US, which will aid me in my research, but alsocreate a debate on this issue with many conflicting hypotheses. I would like toaccumulate data relating to both out-of-wedlock births and changes intechnology (improved access to reproductive/sexual health services), as well asthe changing attitudes of women towards childbearing and marriage.

The NationalSurvey of Family Growth has collected data from 1973 to 2015 from exclusivelywomen, regarding their marriage, sexual activity and contraception, which isvery specific to the research I am conducting, as it is based on individualspreferences, rather than just quantitative data on incomes, jobs…etc. This datais not often used and I have not seen it in the articles that I haveread, which will hopefully allow me to have a fresh insight on this topic.My dissertation will use this data from the last 40years and I will attempt to isolate each variable to find the main causes ofthe increase. Following in the footsteps of Akerlof et al (1996) and Lee andPayne (2010), I am keen to look into the changes in American society since the1960s, and why at certain times (such as the 1960s and 1970s) there were largechanges. In addition to this, I aim to deconstruct the idea of marriage as aconcept in order to understand why so many are choosing alternative lifestyles.


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