NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restoring a Culture of Marriage

July 17, 2002

Contrary to public opinion, the overwhelming majority of children born out of wedlock have parents who are living together or who are romantically involved or seeing each other regularly. Moreover, a majority of unwed mothers and fathers say they are interested in marrying the other parent and believe they have a 50 percent chance of doing so.

The data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study -- a four-year project -- show promising potential for federal-state efforts to reduce out-of-wedlock births, especially among the poor.

  • Eighty-three percent of unwed mothers reported being romantically involved with the father at the time of the child's birth, and are either cohabiting (50 percent) or seeing the other parent frequently each week (33 percent).
  • Seventy-three percent of unmarried mothers and 88 percent of the fathers of their children believed they had a 50-50 chance of marrying each other.
  • Eighty-four percent of the unmarried mothers and 93 percent of the fathers said they put the father's name on the child's birth certificate.

The study also found fewer incidents of domestic violence among these unmarried parents.

  • The rate of abuse is more than four times as high among those who cohabit and do not intend to marry or think it is unlikely they will marry (9.3 percent) as among those who cohabit and intend to marry (2.2 percent).
  • The rate of abuse is also more than four times as high among romantically involved couples who do not intend to marry and who do not live together (7.4 percent) as among those who are not romantically involved and intend to marry (1.6 percent).

Researchers report that the expected marriages frequently do not occur. They say programs to help unwed parents acquire the skills and support they need for a successful marriage would be valuable.

Source: Patrick F. Fagan, "Restoring a Culture of Marriage: Good News for Policymakers from the Fragile Families Survey," Backgrounder No. 1560, June 13, 2002, Heritage Foundation.


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