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Mapping America: “Ever Had an Unwed Pregnancy” by Current Religious Attendance and Structure of Family of Origin

April 12th, 2011

by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D. and Scott Talkington, Ph.D.

The 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that females who grew up in intact families who frequently attended religious services are least likely to have had an unwed pregnancy.

Description: Examining structure of family of origin, 19 percent of females who grew up in an intact married family have had an unwed pregnancy, followed by females from intact cohabiting families (26 percent), single divorced parent families (36 percent) and married stepfamilies (36 percent), cohabiting stepfamilies (37 percent), and always single parent families (54 percent).

Examining only current religious attendance, 16 percent of females who worship at least weekly have had unwed pregnancy, followed by those who attend religious services between one and three times a month (25 percent) and those who attend religious services less than once monthly (25 percent), and those who never attend religious services (27 percent).

Examining current religious attendance and structure of family of origin combined, 18 percent of females who worship weekly and grew up in intact families have had an unwed pregnancy. By contrast, 40 percent of females who never attend religious services and come from non-intact family backgrounds have at some point become pregnant out of wedlock. Between these two extremes are those who never worship and grew up in intact families (24 percent) and those who attend religious services weekly but grew up in non-intact families (33 percent).

Related Insight from Other Studies
Studies based on the 1995 General Social Survey show that family structure affects the unwed pregnancy rate. According to Valerie Martin of McGill University, when compared with peers from intact families, adolescent and young adult women who experienced parental divorce were significantly more likely to give birth out of wedlock.

Using this same survey, Jay Teachman of Western Washington University also found intact families to be protective in many ways: Compared with peers from other family structures, women who grew up in intact families were less likely to form high-risk marriages, to cohabit before marriage, or to have a premarital birth or conception.

Another study demonstrated the protective nature of the family’s religion: When compared with peers whose mothers had not attended religious services frequently, 18-year-olds whose mothers attended religious services often were more likely to have attitudes about premarital sex, cohabitation, abortion, and divorce.

The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey also showed the impact of religion on urban mothers, finding that urban mothers who attend church frequently are at least 70 percent more likely to be married when they give birth or to get married within one year of a nonmarital birth than are urban mothers who do not attend church frequently.

Dr. Fagan is senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at Family Research Council.

Scott Talkington has been Research Director for the National Association of Scholars and Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University School of Public Policy since 1998.

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  1. Heidi
    April 19th, 2011 at 08:49 | #1

    I grew up in an intact family and frequently attended religious services (3 times a week). I was pregnant at 15 and an unwed mother at 16. Ah, statistics.

  2. April 19th, 2011 at 12:37 | #2

    @Heidi Did you have any friends or important figures in your life who suffered a divorce? My best friend’s parents got divorced when he and I were around 12 years old, and my parents are still married (60 years!). I think I was more affected by witnessing his parents split up than he was, he reacted in an opposite direction, getting more conservative (he’s married now with two kids), while I got more wild, reacting against my own boring parents. Maybe you did the same thing? Culture has a way of influencing people in spite of parents.

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