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Study Shows How College Education Can Impact Family Planning in Women

September 8, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences finds a new trend occurring when it comes to the role of marriage in family formation among college-educated women.

“Until recently, nearly all college-educated women waited to have babies until after they married. That’s now changing. A noticeable number are having a first child before marrying,” said researcher Andrew Cherlin, professor emeritus of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.

To conduct the analysis, Cherlin reviewed information from three well-known national studies, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, and the National Survey of Family Growth, that surveyed women in their thirties between 2015 and 2018. 

The findings of the analysis reveal that the sequence of life for emerging adults may be shifting among college graduates, as for a growing share marriage is occurring after a first birth rather than before a first birth.

“Well-educated women know that a biological clock is ticking about having children. They may be determined to have a child even if they can’t find a suitable marriage partner,” said Cherlin.

Based on the findings, about half of the college-educated women have a first child outside of marriage, but get married before having a second child.

A comparison over time shows increases in non-marital first childbearing at every educational level, with the largest percentage increase occurring among women with college degrees at the BA or BS level or higher. 

The article projects that 18 to 27% of college-educated women who are now in their thirties will have a first birth without being married.

According to the findings, possible reasons for the increase in non-marital first births among college-educated women could include things like stagnation of college wage premiums, rise in student debt, decreasing selectivity, and the growing acceptance of childbearing outside of marriage or within cohabitation unions.

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