The Increasing Significance of Shotgun Marriage

Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Duke University
Elizabeth O. Ananat, Duke University
Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University
Amie Bostic, Duke University

Conventional wisdom holds that shotgun marriages, i.e. marriages that occur post-conception but pre-birth, have declined over time and are nearing obsolescence. Using unique North Carolina data that match marriage records to over 2.5 million birth records, this study demonstrates shotgun marriage’s continued importance for family formation. Over the past 21 years, a stable 3.5% of births were classified as shotgun. As a share of married births, shotgun births have actually risen over this period, to 6% from 5%. Shotgun births are the product of two rapidly changing but offsetting components: 1) the share of all births conceived outside of marriage, and 2) the share of these non-marital conceptions that result in pre-birth marriage. The widely noted decrease in component 2 has in fact been offset by an increase in component 1. These opposing trends are most dramatic for White women without high school diplomas and Black women with college degrees.

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Presented in Session 172: Complex and Diverse Familial Contexts for Children