If the seven-year itch is a test of your commitment to your marriage, then the "magic moment" is the time to best ensure that you get married to the father of your kid. According to a new study from Duke University, marriage between unwed parents is more likely in less than three years after their child is born.

The research was part of a study to promote policies that ensure a stable family for children born out of wedlock and test the existence of the “magic moment,” which is the three-year period immediately after the child is born, and according to federal policies, the most conducive time for unwed parents to get married. But according to Christina Gibson-Davis, the lead author of this study, "It turns out the 'magic moment' lasts longer than conventional wisdom has held. And for some subgroups, that moment lasts even longer."

Gibson-Davis teaches sociology at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and is a faculty fellow of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. Her study, which appears online July 2 in Demography, relied on data that came from the National Survey of Family Growth on 5,255 children born non-maritally in the U.S. The study found that the pattern of marriage for unwed mothers varies greatly across race and ethnicity. The trend of marrying late is more prevalent among African-American women than women of other ethnicities. Most African-American women married after their child turned 3.

The study also found that most children born to unwed mothers do see their mothers enter wedlock. Sixty-four percent of the unwed mothers get married, but the marriages may not last.  Nearly half of post-conception marriages end in divorce, and those numbers are higher still for African-American women. "These marriages are fragile," Gibson-Davis said. "If you think that stable marriage is beneficial for kids, very few kids born out of wedlock are experiencing that."

The odds of a successful marriage are better when mothers marry their child’s biological fathers. After 10 years, 38 percent of post-conception marriages involving biological parents had dissolved. While in stepfather marriages, 54 percent of them dissolved during the same time period. These findings were the same across all races.

Other studies, like the one published in 2003, draw attention to the increasing poverty among children born out of wedlock. The study states that children raised by unmarried mothers are seven times more likely to be poor when compared to children raised in intact married families. Statistics also show that communities with the highest illegitimacy rates are among the most economically and educationally backward communities with higher crime rates.

With a study estimating that most children will be born out of wedlock by 2016, Gibson-Davis aptly concludes, "Those who would promote marriage have more work to do."

 

Source: Gibson-Davis C et al. Magic Moment? Maternal Marriage in Children Born out of Wedlock. Demography. 2014.