I read this statement and wanted to know more.

... studies show that pregnant teens who marry before giving birth generally have more stable marriages, do better financially, and have healthier babies than those who do not marry or who marry after the birth of the child. 9 This data provides very strong support for the idea that if marriage is feasible, marriage should be considered well before the birth of the child. Unfortunately, if marriage occurs after the birth of an out-of-wedlock child, the probability of the marriage’s failure is very high 10

9 "Unmarried Parents Today,” Battelle Human Research Center Study, NCFA, March 1988.

10 L. K. White, “Determinants of Divorce: A Review of Research in the Eighties,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52 (1990):904–12.

Where are more articles that weigh in on the decision to marry, in the event of unwed parents? Especially, has this same study been done on adults rather than teens?

  • Marriage and the stability of it is heavily based on culture and society. Thus, I would be weary to use data from the 80s and 90s to draw any conclusions about the current statistics.
    – skymningen
    May 29 '17 at 8:18
  • I can't seem to find the relevant data, and my child development textbooks have long since found their way back to the bookstore, but I was always taught that two primary caregivers are better than one. This is longitudinal data. However, they don't have to be the biological parents. Families where the second caregiver is an aunts/uncle, grandparent, even homosexual partners do "better" raising children than a single parent. The exception is in a child abuse situation.
    – Stu W
    Jun 4 '17 at 13:00

One very important consideration for this and all other non-experimental studies: correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just because two things happen together does NOT mean one causes the other. Here's a great video explaining this idea.

In the case of whether or not expecting parents marry, there are several reasons the parents who marry might have better outcomes (more stable marriages, do better financially, and have healthier babies, etc., as quoted in the article you referenced). One possibility is that getting married before the baby is born causes these positive outcomes. Another very plausible explanation is that couples who are happier, more supportive of each other, more committed to each other and their family are more likely to get married right away when they find out they're pregnant. I've had exactly that happen to friends of mine, actually. They were in a great relationship, and they planned to get married and start a family eventually, they just got pregnant a little ahead of schedule. ;) Not everyone with an unplanned pregnancy is in a loving, committed relationship, though --- some people definitely won't want to marry their co-parent at all, or might eventually but don't feel ready to early on. It makes sense that someone who has a loving, committed partner would have a better outlook financially, emotionally, etc. after an unplanned pregnancy than someone with no partner to rely on, or with a partner they have mixed feelings about. If that's the case, then whether or not they get married might not actually make a difference.

That article frames the evidence in a way that suggests that the act of getting married is improving the odds for those couples, but it's just as plausible that the couples who are more likely to get married had better odds to begin with. Getting married might be more like a side-effect of the actual cause, which might be something like "having a loving and committed partner."

That may seem like splitting hairs, but it's actually a really important distinction to keep in mind. Think about what advice you would give a friend who discovers she's pregnant based on the article's implications, or based on the reasoning I just provided --- probably really different advice. An article like this can make it seem like someone with an unplanned pregnancy should get married to the co-parent and if they don't they're damning the baby's future and their own. That conclusion is not at all supported by the evidence cited in the article.

  • Exactly. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing, so I am looking for other articles that will help me understand any 'known' factors involved, even if they are just correlated, but maybe I'll find some that are causal.
    – user28052
    May 29 '17 at 15:56
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    The only real way to identify causal factors is to randomly assign study participants to condition --- in this case, randomly assign people with unplanned pregnancy to either get married or not. Obviously, that study is impossible. So the evidence you're curious about doesn't exist. The only alternative is to try to control for the non-random assignment statistically (e.g. propensity matching), but that is often complex and hard to interpret for non-experts, which can make those studies even more misleading than simple correaltional designs. May 29 '17 at 16:17
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    Another alternative would be a longitudinal data source which includes relevant information about the relationship and has data points from before and after the occurence of the pregnancy.
    – LAP
    Jun 1 '17 at 12:37
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    @LeoP. As long as you're confident you can measure all of the relevant constructs. ;) The beauty of random assignment is that, in the limit, it will control for things you don't even know to think of. Assuming there are group differences (marry vs. not) in important covariates like relationship quality, then relying on statistical control may also run into problems with conditioning on a collider Jun 1 '17 at 17:52
  • @RoseHartman, thank you for this informative and humorous article! Coincidentally, it is directly relevant to my current work and gave me some points to think about :)
    – LAP
    Jun 6 '17 at 7:16

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