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 

Winter
2010

How Not to Woo a Man


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Not very long ago, a young woman who became pregnant out of wedlock was often married by the time the child was born, and was married to the child’s father. Rarely did the woman plot such a scheme, and in most cases the shotgun marriage lasted. Yet single women who might hope that conceiving a child might yield the same result today will be disappointed. A study of the mating patterns of unwed fathers by scholars at Cornell and Penn State suggests that such behavior, with some exceptions, reaps the opposite effect.

Crunching data from the 2002–03 wave of the National Survey of Family Growth, Daniel T. Lichter and Deborah Roempke Graefe found from a sample of more than 3,800 men, ages 20 to 44, that unwed fathers are about 50 percent less likely to ever marry than men without unwed first births, an effect the researchers call “a very large reduction.” Indeed, their multivariate tests found that the correlation remained statistically significant (p.01) when controlling for other marriage-related variables including age, employment, education, race, and church attendance.

Unmarried teen fathers, however, were an exception to the overall pattern. Not only did these fathers marry at significantly earlier ages, they were also nearly four times more likely to ever marry than other men (p.01). While the findings lead the researchers to suggest that these teen fathers may be marrying their children’s mothers, the fact that only 30 percent of them had married by age 20 (and that less than a third of the unmarried fathers in the sample had been teen fathers) confirms nonetheless that jumping the gun before marriage yields very different consequences than a generation ago. Even when unwed fathers of all ages do marry, the researchers found that these men rarely fit the all-American son-in-law profile, reporting lower levels of education and modest job prospects.

Nor should single women think that cohabitation before marriage might do the trick, as the study found that cohabitation prior to marriage did not affect positively or negatively the odds of men to marry.

(Daniel T. Lichter and Deborah Roempke Graefe, “Men and Marriage Promotion: Who Marries Unwed Mothers?” Social Services Review 81 [September 2007]: 397–420).

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