Unmarried Couples with Children

Overview

Today, a third of American children are born outside of marriage, up from one child in twenty in the 1950s, and rates are even higher among low-income Americans. Many herald this trend as one of the most troubling of our time. But the decline in marriage does not necessarily signal the demise of the two parent family—over 80 percent of unmarried couples are still romantically involved when their child is born and nearly half are living together. Most claim they plan to marry eventually. Yet half have broken up by...

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Overview

Today, a third of American children are born outside of marriage, up from one child in twenty in the 1950s, and rates are even higher among low-income Americans. Many herald this trend as one of the most troubling of our time. But the decline in marriage does not necessarily signal the demise of the two parent family—over 80 percent of unmarried couples are still romantically involved when their child is born and nearly half are living together. Most claim they plan to marry eventually. Yet half have broken up by their child's third birthday. What keeps some couples together and what tears others apart? After a breakup, how do fathers so often disappear from their children's lives?

An intimate portrait of the challenges of partnering and parenting in these families, Unmarried Couples with Children presents a variety of unique findings. Most of the pregnancies were not explicitly planned, but some couples feel having a child is the natural course of a serious relationship. Many of the parents are living with their child plus the mother’s child from a previous relationship. When the father also has children from a previous relationship, his visits to see them at their mother’s house often cause his current partner to be jealous. Breakups are more often driven by sexual infidelity or conflict than economic problems. After couples break up, many fathers complain they are shut out, especially when the mother has a new partner. For their part, mothers claim to limit dads’ access to their children because of their involvement with crime, drugs, or other dangers. For couples living together with their child several years after the birth, marriage remains an aspiration, but something couples are resolutely unwilling to enter without the financial stability they see as a sine qua non of marriage. They also hold marriage to a high relational standard, and not enough emotional attention from their partners is women’s number one complaint.

Unmarried Couples with Children is a landmark study of the family lives of nearly fifty American children born outside of a marital union at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Based on personal narratives gathered from both mothers and fathers over the first four years of their children’s lives, and told partly in the couples' own words, the story begins before the child is conceived, takes the reader through the tumultuous months of pregnancy to the moment of birth, and on through the child's fourth birthday. It captures in rich detail the complex relationship dynamics and powerful social forces that derail the plans of so many unmarried parents. The volume injects some much-needed reality into the national discussion about family values, and reveals that the issues are more complex than our political discourse suggests.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871543172
  • Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
  • Publication date: 5/28/2009
  • Pages: 309
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

PAULA ENGLAND is professor of sociology at Stanford University.

KATHRYN EDIN is professor of public policy and management at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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Table of Contents


About the Authors     vii
Introduction     1
Unmarried Couples with Children: Hoping for Love and the White Picket Fence   Paula England   Kathryn Edin     3
Couple Relationships Among Unmarried Parents     23
Forming Fragile Families: Was the Baby Planned, Unplanned, or In Between?   Kathryn Edin   Paula England   Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer   Joanna Reed     25
Everyday Gender Conflicts in Low-Income Couples   Paula England   Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer     55
Expectations and the Economic Bar to Marriage Among Low-Income Couples   Christina M. Gibson-Davis     84
Steppin' Out: Infidelity and Sexual Jealousy Among Unmarried Parents   Heather D. Hill     104
Anatomy of the Breakup: How and Why Do Unmarried Couples with Children Break Up?   Joanna Reed     133
Parenting Together and Apart     157
#1 Father or Fathering 101?: Couple Relationship Quality and Father Involvement When Fathers Live with Their Children   Kathryn D. Linnenberg     159
Blended but Not the Bradys: Navigating Unmarried Multiple Partner Fertility   Lindsay M. Monte     183
Gatekeeper Moms and (Un)Involved Dads: What Happens After a Breakup?   Amy Claessens     204
Child Support Among Low-Income Noncustodial Fathers   Katherine A. Magnuson   Christina M. Gibson-Davis     228
Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and Data     253
Mixing Methods: Reliability and Validity Across Quantitative and Qualitative Measures of Relationship Quality   Mimi Engel     255
Data from the TLC3   Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer     277
Index     293
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