Shotgun weddings fade as cohabitation gains favor

About 18.1 percent of single women who become pregnant opt to move in with boyfriend before child is born
Associated Press
Jan 7, 2014


No longer taboo, living together has become a more common arrangement for America's couples who become pregnant while dating.

Soon-to-be-released government figures show a major cultural shift since the days of "shotgun weddings" aimed at avoiding family embarrassment. With marriage on the decline, the shift is helping redefine the traditional notion of family.

"The emergence of cohabitation as an acceptable context for childbearing has changed the family-formation landscape," said Christina Gibson-Davis, a sociology professor at Duke University. "Individuals still value the idea of a two-parent family but no longer consider it necessary for the parents to be married."

Still, she cautions that children in cohabiting households may face more difficulties growing up if their unmarried parents are at higher risk of breaking up.

In all, the share of unmarried couples who opted to have "shotgun cohabitations" — moving in together after a pregnancy — surpassed "shotgun marriages" for the first time over the last decade, according to a forthcoming paper from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trend was affirmed by three demographers who conducted separate research on the topic.

It's the latest demographic tipping point as cohabitations turn mainstream — a far cry from the days when the father of a pregnant daughter might use coercion, such as a shotgun, to make sure the boyfriend followed through on a wedding.

"I want to marry when I'm ready, not because I'm being forced into it. Whenever I see couples do that, things don't work out," said Amanda Leigh Pulte, 22, of Austin, Texas, as her 11-month-old daughter Zoey cooed in her arms. Pulte previously had delayed moving in with Matthew Gage, a 29-year-old shipping manager and her boyfriend for three years, wishing to wait until she could earn a bachelor's degree in film and start a full-time job.

An unplanned pregnancy quickly changed that. Completing an associate degree, she agreed to have Gage move in so the couple could work and save on rent while raising Zoey together. Even though they didn't see marriage as a serious option for now — in part to avoid the additional stress of planning and paying for a wedding, she says — neither was having Pulte live on her own as a single mother.

"For a while, my father was kind of shocked about the whole thing, but ultimately he was just excited to be a grandfather," she said with a chuckle. The couple is getting child care tips from the nonprofit Any Baby Can, which also helps them with physical therapy for Zoey, who was born with health ailments.

The numbers are based on the government's National Survey of Family Growth, typically issued every four years. It provides the only government data on cohabiting mothers by asking questions on a woman's relationship status before and after conception and childbirth. Women who say they were single before conception and then married before childbirth are counted as someone who had a post-conception, or "shotgun" marriage; those who moved in with their boyfriends after pregnancy had a post-conception or "shotgun" cohabitation.

Demographers say the cohabiting trend among new parents is likely to continue. Social stigma regarding out-of-wedlock births is loosening, and economic factors play a role. Many couples, especially those who lack a bachelor's degree, are postponing marriage until their finances are more stable. But because of globalization, automation and outsourcing, good-paying middle-income jobs are harder to come by.

"Because marriages are becoming more polarized by economic status, I don't see the trend of shotgun cohabitations reversing any time soon," said Casey Copen, a demographer at the government's National Center for Health Statistics, which administers the government survey.

About 18.1 percent of all single women who became pregnant opted to move in with their boyfriends before the child was born, according to 2006-2010 data from the government's National Survey of Family Growth, the latest available. That is compared to 5.3 percent who chose a post-conception marriage.

As recently as the early 1990s, 25 percent of such couples got married.

Cohabiting mothers are spurring increases in out-of-wedlock births, now at a high of 41 percent. In all, about 60 percent of all births during the 2000s were to married mothers, compared to 24 percent to cohabiting mothers and 16 percent to non-cohabiting mothers. That was the first time that cohabiting births exceeded births from single mothers who weren't living with their child's father.

Since the early 1990s, the share of out-of-wedlock, cohabiting births has grown from 11 percent to 24 percent, while those to noncohabiting, single mothers has remained steady at 16 percent.

Sometimes referred to as the "poor person's marriage," cohabitation is growing fastest among high school graduates with children. Between the 1997-2001 and 2002-2009 periods, it grew from 23 percent to 32 percent, according to Sheela Kennedy, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. For mothers with some college attendance, it grew from 15 percent to 23 percent over that period. Among those with four-year college degrees, the share has changed little, from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Daniel Lichter, a Cornell sociologist and past president of the Population Association of America, said the government needs to do more to reflect increasing cohabitation in statistics. Cohabitation status is not included on birth certificates, and that can skew policy debates over the government safety net for poor households. It also means a growing trend of fragile families in which cohabitating parents may be more likely to break up can be neglected, he said.

Researchers at Harvard and Cornell universities have found that only about half of mothers who were cohabiting when their child was born were still in relationships with the biological father five years later. "The latest results seem to indicate that marriage, as a context for childbearing and childrearing, is increasingly reserved for America's middle- and upper-class populations," Lichter said.




A old guy at the end of the bar once told me "A shot gun wedding is akin to wrecking a rental car and hoping the insurance company does not notice you don't own it" Never was for sure what that meant But wrecking a rental is not on my to do list.


Fear of commitment.

As is said: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?


Sure it's easier to go on welfare and get freebies if they're not married.



*like* More benefits to claim.



Learned entitlement.

Why get married and support yourself when the government will do it for you.


@ donutshopguy:

I don't disagree.

Collective support has been substituted for personal responsibility.


Re: "unplanned pregnancy"

About as euphemistic as: just 'happened' to get pregnant. Well duh.

Don't they teach s*x education in school anymore?


No more shotgun weddings? I'm sure the NRA will be up in arms (pun intended)!

Seriously, is anyone surprised by these numbers? States have passed just under 300 anti-abortion laws since 2010 (and zero laws to improve women's access to reproductive care, I might add) so the numbers were bound to move in this direction. Common sense.

And when you try to collect food stamps or welfare in Ohio, if the father of the baby is living with the mother, they treat it the same as if they're married. Both incomes are counted.


Contango, they do teach s*x education in the schools, but Republicans here in Ohio and elsewhere are doing their best to limit what is talked about in class - they feel that talking about s*x only encourages it. Abstinence only!


Try again PirateBacker. Teen pregancy rates have been falling since 1991 - including in 2013. This is not about increasing unintended pregancies. You are missing the point of the article, which is that of those unintended pregnancies, more couples are choosing co-habitation over marriage.


Re: "best to limit what is talked about in class,"

If true, what is the point of the above article?

Common Sense

Whose job is it to teach your son or your daughter about s*x education? Why don't parents take this responsibility on as their own?


The stats for the unmarried couples living together are likely to keep going up, particularly with some facets of Obamacare actively penalizing those who are married. I've already seen several headlines announcing married couples who are being forced to divorce just to be able to afford the increased insurance premiums! They'll still live together, of course, but still...


A valid point, perhaps, but hardly the cause of a trend that has been occurring for a couple decades. Not EVERYTHING is about Obamacare.


Re: "Not EVERYTHING is about Obamacare."

True. But a major push of Obam☭are is the expansion of Medicaid, i.e. "free" healthcare.

As is said: Subsidize what you want and tax what you don't want.


Fine. But OFF TOPIC. This is a trend that started long ago. Solutions require deeper and more creative thinking rather than the tired Obamacare/evil Republican comments.


Re: "Solutions,"

And the ultimate progressive "solution" is single payer, universal health coverage, again: The message is that it is "free."

IMO, high deductible health plans (HDHP) & health savings accounts (HSA) for everyone is a debate worth having.

People need 'skin in the game.'


You're right. Not everything IS about Obamacare. I'm merely saying that Obamacare will further exacerbate the existing problem.

Other factors which you will doubtless like even less: Marriage penalties where taxes are concerned. The fact it's WAY too easy to GET married, and way too hard to get divorced (I've always thought it should be the other way around just to make sure the commitment of marriage is taken seriously). And then there's the notion that marriage doesn't need to come before babies. Although there is admittedly a downside, I'm coming to believe it was a good thing when girls were actually ASHAMED to be pregnant without a husband beside them!


No, I agree with you. And you may be correct about Obamacar making it worse down the road. But its hardly the cause. Your second points are more likely the cause. The shame of an unmarried pregnancy forced people to marry, which had its downside, but led to more children being raised by two people in the same household, which is better economically.


Re: "The shame"

That's coming from a position of taught morality, not an economic one.

The entitlement mentality has helped remove the economic barriers and supplanted the need for morality helping to create a generation of fatherless children.

IMO and personal experience, a child needs to be raised by two people, preferably a male and female.


Or perhaps economic as well. Marriage itself, which has been around for a looong time, is rooted in socieities in part because solid families are more economically sound. It may have been TAUGHT from a position of morality, but really its about money. And I agree, raising children is a two person job and most econonically efficient when everyone lives under the same roof. The trend is not good.