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The rising share of nonmarital births: Fertility choice or marriage behavior?


  • JoAnna Gray

    (University of Oregon Economics Department)

  • Jean Stockard
  • Joe Stone

    () (University of Oregon Economics Department)

  • Hartmut Egger


In a 2006 article in Demography, Jo AnnaGray Jean Stockard and Joe Stone (GSS i)observe that among black women and white women ages 20 to 39, birth rates increased sharply for unmarried women over the period 1974 to 2000. But they also increased for married women, as well, and yet the total birth rate for married and unmarried women combined was essentially unchanged; ii)conclude that’s since the total birth rate did not change, it seems obvious by inspection that the rises in unmarried and married birth rates could not have come from a general rise in fertility among women 20-39; iii)argue that these patterns are an example of a phenomenon called †Simpson’s paradox.,†often illustrated by a joke, as told at Harvard, that when a student transfers from Harvard to Yale, mean intelligence rises at both places. Both means rise not because the average intelligence of the combined student bodies changed, but because the composition of the student body changed at each school; iv) conclude that between 1974 and 2000, sharp increases in the proportion of women who were single, termed the single share, or Su, changed the composition of the pools of married and unmarried women. The rising single share had a selection effect on the pools of married and unmarried women akin to the hypothetical student transfer from Harvard to Yale. Women with target fertility below the average for married women, but above the average for unmarried women, became less likely to marry than previously, so that mean birth rates for both groups rose over the period, and iv) using age/race-specific panel data, find parameter values strikingly consistent with those predicted by their illustrative model, and a dominant role for the selection effect of the single share in determining the nonmaritalfertility tateErmisch Martin and Wu challenged the GSS findings and onclusions In this response,GSS response GSS repond to the challenges and reaffirm the GSS resuts and conclusions. JEL Categories: J12, J13, I38 F12; F23; H25

Suggested Citation

  • JoAnna Gray & Jean Stockard & Joe Stone & Hartmut Egger, 2008. "The rising share of nonmarital births: Fertility choice or marriage behavior?," University of Oregon Economics Department Working Papers 2008-4, University of Oregon Economics Department.
  • Handle: RePEc:ore:uoecwp:2008-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert A. Moffitt, 2000. "Welfare Benefits and Female Headship in U.S. Time Series," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 373-377, May.
    2. Jeff Grogger & Stephen G. Bronars, 2001. "The Effect of Welfare Payments on the Marriage and Fertility Behavior of Unwed Mothers: Results from a Twins Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 529-545, June.
    3. Marianne Bitler & Jonah Gelbach & Hilary Hoynes & Madeline Zavodny, 2004. "The impact of welfare reform on marriage and divorce," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(2), pages 213-236, May.
    4. Herbert Smith & Phillips Cutright, 1988. "Thinking about change in illegitimacy ratios: United States, 1963–1983," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(2), pages 235-247, May.
    5. Dawn Upchurch & Lee Lillard & Constantijn Panis, 2002. "Nonmarital childbearing: Influences of education, marriage, and fertility," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 39(2), pages 311-329, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joe Stone, 2012. "The Black-White Gap in Non Marital Fertility: Education and Mates in Segmented Marriage Markets," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 33(3), pages 328-336, September.
    2. Brienna Perelli-Harris & Michaela Kreyenfeld & Wendy Sigle-Rushton & Renske Keizer & Trude Lappegård & Aiva Jasilioniene & Caroline Berghammer & Paola Di Giulio & Katja Köppen, 2009. "The increase in fertility in cohabitation across Europe: examining the intersection between union status and childbearing," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2009-021, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    3. Fletcher, Jason M. & Polos, Jessica, 2017. "Nonmarital and Teen Fertility," IZA Discussion Papers 10833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Yujin Kim & R. Raley, 2015. "Race-Ethnic Differences in the Non-marital Fertility Rates in 2006–2010," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 34(1), pages 141-159, February.
    5. Jo Anna Gray & Joe Stone, 2014. "Understanding Measures Of Nonmarital Fertility: The Roles Of Marriage And Access To Human Capital," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 32(2), pages 288-305, April.
    6. Todd D. Kendall & Robert Tamura, 2010. "Unmarried Fertility, Crime, and Social Stigma," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(1), pages 185-221, February.

    More about this item


    Tax competition; Keywords: marriage; birth rates; nonmarital fertility; education; welfare;

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs


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