The Significance of Race and Class in Marital Decisions among Unmarried Adolescent Mothers*


Marriages of adolescents to legitimize births has declined dramatically in the United States among black and white teenagers in recent years. This paper reports on a qualitative study of why black and white teenage mothers from middle-class, working-class, and lower-class backgrounds remained unmarried after becoming pregnant. The paper discusses in what ways the teens ' reasons for single motherhood vary by their class and race. The study suggests that, while many of these reasons are more closely associated with a teen's class than race, particularly among the non-disadvantaged young women, there are also differences across race that indicate a complex relationship between class and race in adolescents ' marital choices. Overall fertility rates among American adolescents have decreased since 1970. Yet re-searchers, policy-developers, service providers, and members of the American public alike continue to express deep concern over adolescent childbearing. This concern arises partly from the fact that, while teen birth rates have declined, the proportion of births to teenagers who are unmarried is rising steadily (Chase-Lansdale and Vinovskis 1987). In 1960, 15.4 per-cent of all births to teenagers were to unmarried young women (O'Connell and Rogers 1984). This figure has risen dramatically, so that by 1985 nearly 60 percent of births to adolescents were out of wedlock (Pittman and Adams 1988). Young unmarried mothers and their off

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