Examining the Antecedents of U.S. Nonmarital Fatherhood

Carlson, Marcia, Alicia VanOrman and Natasha Pilkauskas
Working paper no. 2010-12


Despite the dramatic rise in nonmarital childbearing in recent decades, there has been limited attention to factors affecting nonmarital fatherhood (beyond studies of young fathers). In this paper, we use data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort to examine the antecedents of nonmarital fatherhood. Overall, we find the strongest support across both datasets for education and race/ethnicity as key predictors of having a nonmarital birth, consistent with prior literature about women’s nonmarital childbearing and about men’s early/teenage fatherhood: Education is inversely related to the risk of nonmarital childbearing, and Hispanic—and especially black—men are much more likely to have a child outside of marriage than white men. By contrast, we find little evidence that employment and earnings predict nonmarital fertility—although they do predict marital fertility. Given the high and rising fraction of births outside of marriage, this research suggests that nonmarital fatherhood may contribute to growing U.S. inequality and stratification both within and across generations.