Amanda Leigh Pulte, with Matthew Gage and their daughter Zoey, is in no rush to wed. (Eric Gay / AP)
Washington— 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.
“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. “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.
Demographers say the cohabiting trend is likely to continue. Social stigma regarding out-of-wedlock births is loosening, and many couples, especially those who lack a bachelor’s degree, are postponing marriage until their finances are more stable.
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.