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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Stability of Marital and Cohabiting Unions Following a First Birth


In a recent paper, Manning, Smock, and Majumdar (2004) examine the stability of marital and cohabiting unions from the perspective of children and find that children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to experience a parental separation than children born to married parents. They find, further, that subsequent marriage among cohabiting parents is associated with increases in the stability of these families, particularly among whites. We rely on the same data, the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, to extend their findings. We focus on family stability from the perspective of the couple, estimating the risks of union dissolution following a first birth. Our empirical results complement Manning et al.'s by modeling four distinct trajectories of cohabitation and marriage around the time of the first birth and comparing the dissolution risks associated with each. We focus particular attention on comparing the stability of cohabiting couples who marry before a first birth and those who marry after a first birth. For these couples, we find that the ordering of cohabitation, marriage, and childbirth is not associated with union stability, and we interpret this to suggest that many cohabiting couples jointly plan marriage and childbirth.

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