Do Children Benefit if Their Unmarried Parents Marry? A Focus on Young Children’s Behavior

Nina Palmo, University of Texas at Austin

Marriage has long been associated with a wide range of positive outcomes for children. In response, policies are aimed at promoting marriage among unmarried parents. It is unknown, however, whether marriage in response to a child is associated with the same benefits for children as marriage prior to conception. We use data from the Fragile Families Study (N=3,068) to examine the association between children’s behavioral problems at age 3 and the timing of their biological parents’ marriage relative to conception. We examine the extent to which maternal background characteristics, economic resources and relationship quality and commitment mediate the association between parents’ marriage timing and child behavior. Results show that marrying in direct response to pregnancy is associated with similar outcomes as marriage prior to conception, yet marriages that occur after the child’s first birthday are not associated with any benefits for children.

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Presented in Session 39: Public Policy and Child Outcomes