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For Fertility, Marriage Still Matters

Report examines worldwide marital behaviors and why they remain closely tied to fertility

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Does marriage matter for fertility? Around the world, a growing share of births are to unmarried mothers. Public opinion polls show fewer and fewer people believe that parents need to be married. Many commentators assume that the historic link between marriage and childbearing is now broken. Some go further and claim that policymakers may be wise to ignore marital status as an important element of the fertility process. In related arguments, low fertility in East Asia, attributed to strong stigma against unmarried motherhood, is thought to be remedied by destigmatizing nonmarital childbearing and deprioritizing marriage.

This report challenges these ideas. Marriage still matters for fertility; indeed, marital behaviors remain closely tied to fertility behaviors, so much so that it is virtually impossible to promote marriage or fertility alone without also influencing the other.

About the Authors

Lyman Stone is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, the Director of Research for the consulting firm, Demographic Intelligence, and a Ph.D. candidate in population dynamics at McGill University. His research and writing have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, South China Morning Post, and numerous other publications.

Spencer L. James is associate professor of Family Life, a Wheatley Fellow, and an Africana Studies affiliate at Brigham Young University, where he directs the Global Families Research Initiative, focusing on global family relationships and how those relationships influence the well-being of children, adolescents, and adults. Within this broader stream of research, he focuses on two lines: the first on the consequences of family relationships for child well-being, and the second addressing how and why people form, maintain, and dissolve romantic relationships.

About the Institute for Family Studies
The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) is a research and public education organization whose mission is to strengthen marriage and family life and advance the well-being of children. The Wheatley is grateful for their partnership on this report.