The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Niños Sin las Bodas

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

What do the American children of immigrant Latinos understand less well than their parents? Apparently, they do not comprehend the meaning of the wedding chapel nearly so well as their parents. Well under way among America’s Anglos since the 1970s, the retreat from marriage is now accelerating among Latinos born in the United States. The consequence of this decline in marriage rates among native-born Latinos has been an entirely predictable upsurge in out-of-wedlock Latina childbearing.

In a recent study, demographers from Cornell and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, seek to explain why the Non-Marital Fertility Rate (NMFR) rose 43 percent between 1994 and 2005 among Latinas. Drawing data from the Natality Detail File for 1994–2005 and population estimates from the Current Population Survey for 1993–2006, the researchers acknowledge that “at the beginning of the study period a high rate of marriage among foreign-born teenagers in 1994 clearly placed downward demographic pressure on their NMFR.” In fact, the researchers limn “an unexpected increase in marriage among foreign-born Latinas over 1994–2005,” an increase that placed yet more “downward demographic pressure on their NMFR.”

But the researchers see a different picture among Latinos born in the United States. “The benefit of declining nonmarital fertility among native-born Latinas,” they remark, “was completely offset [during the period in question] by the effects of declining marriage rates, which boosted the MMFR by 14 points.”

With good reason, the authors fear that “the high rate of nonmarital childbearing [among Latinas] . . . has been a significant deterrent to Latinos’ full social and economic incorporation into American society.” In this context, it therefore strikes the researchers as imperative to awaken public officials to “the unappreciated role of declining marriage rates” in driving up the rate of nonmarital childbearing. In other words, the findings “highlight the need to understand changes in . . . nonmarital fertility in the context of the current retreat from marriage.”

The Cornell and North Carolina researchers leave no doubt as to the most sensible way to interpret their study. “The implication,” in their view, “is clear: Marriage promotion and relationship counseling should be important components of a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing.”

Perhaps foreign-born Latinas could help with the implementation of this strategy. They still seem to remember that wedlock matters.

(Felicia Yang DeLeone et al., “Decomposing Trends in Nonmarital Fertility Among Latinas,” Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health 41.3 [2009]: 166–72, emphasis added.)