Union Dissolution in Fragile Families

Laura M. Tach, Harvard University
Kathryn Edin, University of Pennsylvania

Most parents who have children outside of marriage are cohabiting or romantically involved when their child is born. By the child’s fifth birthday, however, over half of these relationships have ended. What causes unmarried parents to end their relationships? Previous qualitative research suggests that unmarried couples’ more often attribute their breakups to the low quality of their relationships or to partners’ negative behaviors, while economic factors are more important predictors of entry into marriage. We test this hypothesis and find support for it using nationally representative data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Relationship commitment prior to a nonmarital birth is the strongest predictor of whether unmarried parents remain together following the birth, while economic conditions have little effect on the likelihood of relationship dissolution. We also explore whether the causes of relationship dissolution differ for married and unmarried parents.

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Presented in Session 167: Union Instability