Is the Marriage Advantage in Birth Outcomes a Race-Specific Phenomenon?

Jennifer Buher Kane, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Duke University

It is widely documented that married women exhibit lower incidences of low birth weight and preterm birth, but surprisingly little attention has been paid to racial or ethnic variation or changes over time in this ‘marriage advantage,’ despite the fact that marriage has become increasingly demographically selective. This study uses birth certificate data (all births in North Carolina from 1990-2011) to contrast the marriage advantage across four racial-ethnic groups: White, Black, US-born Hispanic, and foreign-born Hispanic. Results from logistic regression models, demographic standardization, and a multivariate decomposition demonstrate surprising similarity in the magnitude of the marriage advantage—-both across racial-ethnic groups and over time. Subsequent analyses explore two competing explanations: offsetting compositional changes mask underlying changes over time, or, compositional changes have not affected the magnitude of the marriage advantage. Evidence of the latter is shown, suggesting that protective benefits of marriage exist and are salient across race-ethnicity and time.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Marriage, Unions, Families and Households