Nav: Home

Is shotgun marriage dead?

November 01, 2016

DURHAM, N.C. -- Shotgun marriages have faded in popularity overall, but are on the rise among some groups, says new research from Duke University. And not all shotgun marriages are as rocky as one might think.

In the 1930s, half of all unmarried pregnant women in the United States married before giving birth, according to U.S. Census data. As premarital sex and out-of-wedlock childbearing became more common, rates of shotgun marriage dropped sharply. By the second half of the 2000s, only 6 percent of unmarried pregnant woman married before giving birth, according to government figures.

But against the backdrop of an overall decline, shotgun marriages have actually risen among certain groups of women, including young mothers and those with less education, according to the new research published online Nov. 1 in Demography.

"Some people still want to get married before the baby is born," said Christina Gibson-Davis, who authored the study with Elizabeth O. Ananat and Anna Gassman-Pines. "With apologies to Mark Twain, the death of shotgun marriage has been greatly exaggerated."

The Duke researchers looked at North Carolina birth, marriage and divorce data for 800,000 first births among white and black mothers. (The data available on Hispanic births was inadequate for inclusion.) The state's fertility, marriage and divorce levels mirror those of the U.S. as a whole.

"Not many people have a shotgun marriage, but it's more common among groups who otherwise have low marriage rates -- African-Americans, those with less education and those under 25," said Gibson-Davis, a faculty fellow of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy and an associate professor of public policy, sociology and psychology and neuroscience at Duke. "This matters because having married parents may be good for the children involved."

Among children born to married parents between 1992 and 2012, shotgun marriages increased by:


  • 20 percent for all black mothers;
  • 17 percent for white mothers under 25;
  • 60 percent for black mothers under 25;
  • 41 percent for white women with a high school diploma or less;
  • and 61 percent for black women with a high school diploma or less.

Some might surmise shotgun marriages are more likely than other marriages to end in divorce. The researchers found that to be true for white, but not black, couples. After a decade, 30 percent of white couples who had a shotgun marriage were divorced, compared to 19 percent of white couples who married prior to a child's conception.

Among African-Americans, though, divorce rates for shotgun marriages and other marriages were nearly the same -- 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Notably, for black women with a high school education or less, shotgun marriages were significantly less likely to end in divorce after 10 years than were other marriages.

Overall, an abundance of research suggests children do better when they live with married parents who don't divorce, Gassman-Pines said.

"Policymakers often worry about kids in marriages that break up and about low marriage rates among black women," said Gassman-Pines, a faculty fellow of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy and an associate professor of public policy and psychology and neuroscience at Duke. "Our findings suggest that, for black couples, shotgun marriages are just as stable as marriages that started before a pregnancy."

The Duke researchers will continue to look at how marriage affects children in upcoming studies, including whether being born to married parents improves academic achievement and school behavior.
-end-
Support for this research was provided by the Duke Population Research Institute and the Duke Social Science Research Institute's Education and Human Development Incubator.

CITATION: "Midpregnancy Marriage and Divorce: Why the Death of Shotgun Marriage Has Been Greatly Exaggerated," Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Elizabeth O. Ananat and Anna Gassman-Pines. Demography, November 2016.
DOI: 10.1007/s13524-016-0510-x

NOTE: A copy of the Demography article is available to journalists upon request by emailing Amy Dominello Braun at amy.d.braun@duke.edu.

Duke University

Related Marriage Articles:

Marriage makes men fatter, shows new research
Being married makes men gain weight, and the early days of fatherhood add to the problem, finds new research from the University of Bath's School of Management.
Commuter marriage study finds surprising emphasis on interdependence
A study, 'Going the Distance: Individualism and Interdependence in the Commuter Marriage,' by Lehigh University's Danielle Lindemann, explores how the seemingly conflicting cultural norms of personal autonomy and a commitment to the institution of marriage play out 'on the ground' from the viewpoint of participants in commuter marriages -- in which a married couple lives apart in service to their dual professional careers.
Delaying marriage in developing countries benefits children
Delaying the marriage age of young women in parts of the developing world has significant positive effects for their children, a new study shows.
How birthplace and education influence marriage choices in China
Many people choose their spouse based on shared values and interests.
Child marriage remains widespread in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa
Child marriage harms girls' health and development throughout the world.
State same-sex marriage policies associated with reduced teen suicide attempts
A nationwide analysis suggests same-sex marriage policies were associated with a reduction in suicide attempts by adolescents, according to a new study published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
Same-sex marriage legalization linked to reduction in suicide attempts among teens
The implementation of state laws legalizing same-sex marriage was associated with a significant reduction in the rate of suicide attempts among high school students -- and an even greater reduction among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
How parenting styles influence our attitudes to marriage
Research from Japan has revealed how different parenting styles can affect marriage rates and desired number of children.
Wives with a 'soul mate' view of marriage are less likely to volunteer, study finds
Wives who have a romantic view of marriage are less likely to do volunteer work, leading their husbands to volunteer less as well.
Is shotgun marriage dead?
Shotgun marriages have faded in popularity overall, but are on the rise among some groups, says new research from Duke University.

Related Marriage Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".