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WASHINGTON, Oct 5, 2005 (UPI via COMTEX) -- A provocative new study suggests women who have children out of wedlock have a harder time marrying than those who don't -- and that those who do find a spouse often end up on the wrong side of a mismatch.
The findings suggest programs aimed at improving life for lower-income Americans need to focus on the issue of out-of-wedlock births, the study's authors said.
"Women who bear children out of wedlock do not fare well in the marriage market," said Daniel Lichter, a professor at Cornell University and a co-author of the study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Social Forces.
The unwed mothers are about 30 percent less likely to marry than to cohabit, compared to single women without children, the study found. And those who do marry are likelier to end up with an older, less educated, less economically advantaged spouse.
"It's more difficult for unwed mothers to get married, and if they do, they tend to not marry well," said co-author Zhenchao Qian, a professor at Ohio State University.
The study is based on data from the U.S. Current Population Survey between 1980 and 1995 and reflected statistics on 102,722 women 18 to 34.
Among the findings:
-- Unwed mothers are much likelier than married women to be poor. More than one-third of families headed by women are below the poverty line, compared to just 6 percent of married couples with children.
-- Single moms were less likely to marry a man with at least some college education. That means they're less likely to move up in the world when they do marry than childless single women.
-- Unmarried white mothers were more likely to marry an older man -- at least six years older -- than their childless counterparts.
-- Slightly more than half the never-married mothers -- 55.8 percent -- were black, 10.3 percent Hispanic.
"Unwed mothers have significant disadvantages when trying to attract suitable mates," said Leanna Mellott, a graduate student in sociology at Ohio State and the third co-author. "As a result, single mothers are less likely than childless women to be well matched demographically with their husbands or partners."
"Our analysis suggests that blacks and Hispanics may be less likely to marry or cohabit because they face shortages of potential spouses," Qian said. "If they had been married or living with someone, they would likely have husbands or partners much older than themselves."
President Bush's Healthy Marriage Initiative, begun in 2002, aims to promote marriage among low-income Americans. Lichter noted the administration has earmarked $100 million in federal matching funds for the new fiscal year and another $100 million in other aid to the project.
Qian said the new study suggests that such programs need to tackle the issue of unwed mothers and their economic disadvantage.
"Government efforts to reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing and provide employment and education opportunities for low-income men and women may have the indirect and long-term benefit of encouraging better matched and therefore more healthy and stable marriages," Qian said.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International