The effects of the sequencing of marriage and first birth during adolescence

S. D. McLaughlin, W. R. Grady, J. O.G. Billy, N. S. Landale, L. D. Winges

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22 Scopus citations


Whether or not they marry, black adolescent mothers are more likely than whites to attend school following the birth of their first child. Marrying to legitimate a birth reduces the likelihood that a teenager will return to school after childbearing; this impact of marriage is much stronger among black than among white teenagers. The timing of marriage appears to affect school enrollment among white teenagers through its impact on living arrangements. However, the negative impact of marriage on educational achievement does not seem to be a consequence of earlier differences in educational expectations among the teenagers. Teenage mothers appear less likely to separate from their husbands in later years if they marry before the birth than if they marry afterward. Delaying marriage until after the birth has a long-term effect on the probability of separation among white teenage mothers, but has only a short-term impact among blacks. Among teenagers who marry before giving birth, there is little difference in the likelihood of separation between those who marry before becoming pregnant and those who do so afterward. In addition, the effect of the sequence of marriage and first birth among white teenage mothers may have declined in recent years. Adolescent mothers who do not marry before their first birth experience a longer interval between that birth and their second than do those who marry either before or during the pregnancy. These differences are primarily the result of short-term variations in the amount of time they spend married; that is, women who are unmarried when they give birth are less likely to have a second birth soon afterward, largely because of their delay in marrying in the first place. When differences in marital duration are taken into account, though, there is no substantial variation among whites in the likelihood of a short second-birth interval, although black women who have had a premarital birth are slightly more likely to report a short birth interval than are black women who marry before the birth. Finally, white teenagers who marry before their first birth (either before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy) are less likely to have a low-birth-weight baby than are their unmarried counterparts. Such differences are not seen among the children of black teenage mothers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-18
Number of pages7
JournalFamily Planning Perspectives
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1986

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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