Is Marriage Protective for all Children at Birth? A Cumulative Risk Perspective.

June 2007

Cynthia Osborne, University of Texas at Austin.

Download 'working_paper07-17.pdf'.


Today, 37% of all births are to unmarried mothers (Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2006). This represents a doubling in nonmarital childbearing in the past 25 years. Reducing nonmarital childbearing and promoting marriage among unmarried parents have become major policy concerns because of the strong association between living in an unmarried household and negative social, academic, and behavioral outcomes for children (Amato, 2005; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Although the increase in nonmarital births has occurred at all education levels and among all race/ethnic groups, the trends have disproportionately affected lower educated and minority women (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004), which is fueling the growing inequality in this country. A concern is that two very different trajectories have been created for children; one for children born to married parents that is largely advantageous and one for children born to unmarried mothers that is beset with multiple risks (McLanahan, 2004).

Child Well-being and Child Development, Marriage, Family Formation and Reproductive Issues