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 

Relieving the Stigma of Illegitimacy

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The increased labor-force participation of women, reinforced by government-induced affirmative action, has reaped a number of unintended consequences, including the decline in the relative wages of married men and upward pressure on divorce rates. Now a study by Canadian sociologists finds a significant link between the full-time employment of women and greater acceptance of having children outside of marriage.

Amir Erfani and Roderic Beaujot analyzed data from the Survey of Orientations to Marriage, Relationships, and Childbearing—a 2000 poll of a representative sample of households in the Middlesex and Oxford counties of Ontario—to measure attitudes toward the role of marriage in having and raising children. Participants were asked to agree (or disagree) with six statements: 1) a divorced mother raising a child with a live-in boyfriend is acceptable; 2) the government should allow same-sex couples to adopt; 3) a single woman should never have a child; 4) a single man should never have a child; 5) a child needs a home with both a mother and a father to grow up happy; and 6) a couple should marry first before having children. While questions 2 and 6 yielded strong conservative responses, questions 3 through 5 yielded the opposite. On question 1, women split the difference while men agreed 56 to 44 percent.

Using factor analysis that loaded the responses to all six items into one key measure, the researchers found statistically significant correlations between greater acceptance of having children independent of marriage and respondents who are presently cohabiting (p<.05) or divorced (p<.01). Regression analysis also found that if a respondent’s first living arrangement with a lover was cohabitation, the past behavior was strongly linked to more liberal attitudes (p<.001 for men and women).

In statistical models separating results by gender, employment emerged as revealing indicator. A woman’s full-time employment is strongly associated with more liberal attitudes (p<.001), especially so if the woman is unmarried. “The most negative attitudes,” according to the researchers, “occur for women who are married or not employed full-time.” The patterns for men were just the opposite, although they were not statistically significant. “Men who are employed full-time and are not married have the most negative orientation toward non-marital childbearing.”

The researchers welcome the “more favorable attitudes” toward illegitimacy their study documents, which they hope will grease the skids for more government programs to support “family diversity.” Do they ever consider that more favorable attitudes toward marriage might be a better approach? That would lead to more children having a married mother and father and far fewer demands on the taxpayer.

(Amir Erfani and Roderic Beaujot, “Attitude toward Childbearing Outside of Marriage in Canada,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 40.5 [Autumn 2009]: 759–73.)