This study evaluated a 1987 argument that racial differences in rates of premarital childbearing can be attributed to racial differences in the types of neighborhoods inhabited by African- American and White women and attempts to determine whether the most often suggested mechanisms mediate the effects of neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage on female adolescents’ risk of having a premarital birth.
Bearing a child outside of marriage remains a significant event in the lives of many young American women. Even though our knowledge of the causes and consequences of adolescent premarital childbearing grows, two issues have been left unresolved: (1) the pronounced difference between young African-American and White women in the risk of having a premarital birth and (2) the role of community and neighborhood characteristics as determinants of childbearing outside of marriage. Analyzing longitudinal data from the National Survey of Children, this federally funded study found that over one-third of the positive effect of neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage on the timing of young women’s first premarital birth could be attributed to the attitudes toward unmarried parenthood in distressed communities. The analysis shows that the higher rates of adolescent premarital childbearing among African-American women, relative to White women is explained, in part, by differences in the types of neighborhoods they inhabit. That higher rates of premarital childbearing in disadvantaged neighborhoods are partly attributable to young women’s verbal support for such behavior implies that much out-of-wedlock childbearing in distressed neighborhoods is at least not entirely accidental. The findings challenge theories attributing the effects of neighborhood socioeconomic status on out-of-wedlock childbearing to lower opportunity costs to premarital fertility in distressed communities. The analysis suggests that several other commonly cited reasons are incapable of explaining such effects. It is recommended that intervening mechanisms be found that were not considered in this analysis. References
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