Historical Change in Legitimation of Births: 1920-2002

Lynette Hoelter, University of Michigan
Felicia LeClere, University of Michigan
Pamela J. Smock, University of Michigan

This paper addresses the question of the legitimation of nonmarital pregnancies using data from a series of cross-sectional fertility surveys that allow for the examination of women’s marriage and fertility behaviors spanning eight decades, 1920-2002. We focus on factors, particularly education, that may explain differences in rates of legitimating births over time. This will enhance our understanding of the relationship between education and women’s family and fertility decisions across a time period where educational opportunities and the availability of effective contraception for women has changed significantly. In the absence of effective contraception, women’s education may play a very small role in determining premarital conception. Additionally, previous studies of legitimation tend to concentrate on first births whereas we have the ability to examine all births for each respondent, allowing us to compare the effects of education on the incidence of premarital conception compared to the timing of fertility within marriage.

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Presented in Session 66: Timing of Childbearing