What stands in the way of the transition to marriage among unmarried, new parents?

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Melz, Heidi Marie

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This study examines the transition to marriage among low-income urban mothers and fathers who are unmarried and have a newborn baby together. The study contributes to an emerging body of research that explores the concept of obstacles to marriage by testing whether obstacles to marriage operate in the way that the descriptive literature has proposed: by standing in the way of loving and committed couples who might otherwise make a smooth transition to marriage. Using survival analysis techniques and data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and introducing a new measure, the Headed to Marriage Index, the study tests the influence that three categories of determinants of marriage — relationship quality, investment in the relationship, and guiding values and beliefs — have on how long couples with a newborn remain unmarried to each other. It also determines whether and how the association between these determinants of marriage and time to marriage is affected by the presence of three obstacles to marriage: low education, poverty, and multiple partner fertility. Results show that the Headed to Marriage Index can be used to estimate hazard of marriage among these couples, and that as a predictor of marriage behavior, this simple index performs nearly as well as the individual components that it comprises. Results also show that low education, being in poverty, and having multiple partner fertility are formidable obstacles that might help to explain why some new parents never marry each other, even though they report wanting to. Finally, interaction terms using the Headed to Marriage Index and each of the three obstacles to marriage test the hypothesis that the extent to which these obstacles to marriage matter might differ depending a couple’s score on the Headed to Marriage Index. The results provided evidence that poverty is an obstacle to marriage for couples at all levels of the Headed to Marriage Index, but that its effect grows stronger as HMI score increases. Poverty is a significant barrier to marriage for those who are otherwise most prepared and oriented toward marriage.



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