As ‘living in’ gains favor, shotgun weddings fade


Amanda Leigh Pulte, right, and Matthew Gage, center, posing with their daughter Zoey at their home in Austin. 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.

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, according to calculations by Daniel Lichter, a Cornell sociologist.

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

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  • Poormanphysics

    The stats should be on how the success rate or failure rate this type of relationship winds up too. How can they even have tax exemption for the child born out of wedlock? The basic element of the society is the family destroy those institutions destroy the society.

    • Sam

      Bollocks! A family is still a family even if they have not got married, or to use the antiquated word you did, wedlock.

      There are many reasons people do not get a marriage license – they are not religious so don’t consider it important, they are already married to someone else but can’t divorce because the Catholic Church controls what they can and cannot do even if they are not Catholic (In the Philippines), the State they are in forbids same-sex marriage and they are Gay, etc etc, yet all may comprise a ‘family unit’.

      Society has not collapsed yet :)

      • henri_see

        emphasis on the “yet”.

      • Sam

        It will clearly stun you to learn, but people have been forming families without getting ‘married’ for thousands of years! There was even Gay marriage 2 thousand years ago in Rome. And here we still are, so no need to panic after all :)

    • AntiAko

      That will be for another study… they have tax exemption because they are supporting a child.

    • panhase

      How would you like to measure the success or failure of relationships? There are many married couples who are living side by side like strangers or fighting everyday, in my mind this cannot called success.
      And a “shotgun” i.e. forced wedding starts already the wrong way, how can that be a success?
      When a man and a woman are living together then it is a family. What more is needed to constitute a family?

      • angie1875

        When a man and woman are living together, then its a family..very simply put but not quite true. What if the woman is a minor, and the man is a pedophile( like Freddie Aguilar). What if one was mentally unstable? Or if one wants multiple families like the Revillas, with so many wives and children, it is so confusing for the gov’t to keep track.

      • panhase

        Well, I talked about a man and a woman. In case the female partner would b a minor then she would not be called a woman but a girl. And if she is indeed a minor that would be a criminal offense. There is an existing law to that but when you will visit certain areas you can observe that this law (like so many other laws in the Philippines) is not always strictly observed. But this has nothing to do with the topic of the article.
        Like the multiple families you mentioned, they are a reality in Philippine society for hundreds of years. And these multiple families had never been prevented by any laws of the state or rules of the church. And not only the Revillas are into this.
        But back to the topic, why should people living together, having children, not be considered a family? If one looks at the wordings of marriage vow then one will see that the man takes the woman as his wife nd the woman takes the man as her husband. Other person there, whether it´s a priest a mayor or whoever might be present, or mere witnesses to this vow.
        It is the sole right and responsibility of the man and the woman to take and accept each other as husband and wife. Nobody else has the right to interfere with this.
        And when they choose each other they are a family.

      • angie1875

        A man and a woman will reproduce, whether they are mentally or morally stable or unstable. It is the govt’s job to be sure that the children are taken cared of in a stable and healthy environment. If there are drugs around, free sex around, immoral practices to corrupt the minors, who will protect them?A family is not about people living together. It is about obligations to each other, being able to feed the children, send them to school, take care of them when sick, and if abandoned, be held legally liable for support. Marriage is for protection of women and children so we know who is legally responsible for their upkeep. The law is not being obeyed here, true. That’s why we are not progressing. Too much freedom has its limit . But we should strive to obey the law even if there are those who do not.

      • panhase

        Government cannot make people live a better life, governments cannot make husbands or wives faithful to each other, governments cannot compel people to care for each other or to take better care of their children. And it is not the job of governments to do so. Governments do not have to interfere with individual lives.
        And for hundred thousands of years it did work out between men and women. It never depended on a piece of paper. If persons are committed to each other then they are committed, no matter if they hold a paper or not. Look at the reality in the Philippines,, many are married but the women and children are in no way protected through marriage and nobody (including the Church) cares who is responsible for the upbringing of children.
        And if one takes a look at history one will see that the Church started only in the 4th century to preform Church weddings and around the 8th century they started slowly to enforce this, i.e. tried to make living together without Church sanction illegal. And it took again some time before this was completed throughout Europe.
        And up to now the wedding vow is that man and woman take each other as husband and wife. It´s the man and the woman doing that. A priest or a state official is merely a witness to this ceremony.
        And drugs, free sex and immoral practices are a different topic. This has nothing to do with living together. Look again at the reality in the Philippines, drugs are around in almost evry corner of the country, despite laws and despite people claiming what a religious country this is. Free sex was around for centuries already and is either given or not. Same with immoral practices, there are more than plenty in the Philippines.

    • crazy_horse_101010

      unlike here wherever you go you find married people but they are living with someone else. this country is one of the world leaders in adultery. so what good is that piece of paper? i know people here who have been married for years but havent seen their spouse in years and are living with some one else. i talked to a coastie recently and he was bragging he had 3 wives and 15 kids all this on a coast guard salary. and in america you get tax exemption whether you are married or not has long has you are a legal parent.or guardian

  • Mr Brightside

    the issue is not marriage…

    its about commitment..

    marriage is just for formality

    • henri_see

      then why all the fuss about and push for gay marriage?

      • Sam

        That’s a Human Rights issue, for those who want equality under the law. For those who want to marry in a civil ceremony, let them!

      • slicenziuten

        is gay marriage (or its prohibition) a human rights issue? perhaps its best described as a behavioral issue.

      • Sam

        Since Gays are discriminated against, it clearly is a human rights issue. If marriage is to be considered a behavioral issue it applies equally to heterosexuals.

      • slicenziuten

        discriminated, in so many ways yes, but they are free to live with their partners and are already accepted by most societies in spite of some conservatives being against it. going further and pushing the law to approve of their freewill and intimate behavior via marriage does not necessarily equate to human rights advocacy. if they both love one another and are already in a relationship then why ask for the “law” to adjust itself and give them a nod or green light?

      • Sam

        Because that is what defines discrimination.

      • slicenziuten

        sadly, it would be wrong to assume that our modern law will guarantee any person’s protection from all discrimination.

      • Sam

        It depends what country you are in. This article is about the USA and equality for all is written into the Constitution. You cannot legislate against all forms of discrimination but you can legislate against legal discrimination.

      • slicenziuten

        there i see, they wish to make some human behavior legal, even if its not yet considered as a moral one.

      • Sam

        Is homosexuality illegal in the USA? No. As for morality, if it is considered immoral by Society in sufficient numbers it is usually also rendered illegal. If you are referring to some sort of religious morality may I remind you the law is separate from religion. Homosexuality is not illegal, therefore there is no civil legal reason to discriminate against them also marrying.

      • slicenziuten

        i was referring to same sex marriage. its not yet legal in many parts.

        there was once a time when the sole purpose of human rights is to signify the code of moral behavior and values.

      • Sam

        Same sex marriage is a natural civil extension of homosexual relationships. It is not yet legal in all US states, but the tide has turned, with many legal victories, including in the US SC. The fight is not yet over, but it’s just a matter of time. Human Rights protect Human Rights within a code of accepted behavior and values. I avoid the subjective word morality because it is heavily centered around religious beliefs. Fifty years ago I agree it would be unheard of for a State to grant same-sex marriage, but times have changed. Values have changed – some will argue they have declined and others will assert they have become more tolerant and less bigoted. That all depends on your subjective point of view.

      • slicenziuten

        i agree that in time same sex marriage would be legalized. theres no stopping it now. i wouldnt feel sad nor glad towards people going through it. i may not be so sure that perhaps one of my children and their childrens children will do so in their time. but such respect which i give to these behaviors must also be given in return towards some of us who believes indifferently with regards to incorporating it (same sex marriage) in our laws.

      • Kenjie Hasaki

        It is not a question of love. it is not a question of cultural acceptance. It a question of equal rights under the law. Heteros can have their spouse to be their beneficiaries in insurance (i.e. SSS, Philhealth), inherit 50% of the conjugal property; adopt children, etc; Gay couples pay the same taxes as the heteros, yet they cannot claim exemption for kids they “adopt”.

        The duty of the state is to ensure all its citizens enjoy the same rights and privileges under the law.

      • slicenziuten

        yes- the state has always been persistent in pursuing its duty in order to ensure that everyone is equal under the law. this is true for all citizens. and as a sign of liberty one can freely seek his own sexual preference, desires and behavior. yet requesting the law to approve on granting legalized marriage relative to their moral version is something that would require further unbiased reasoning if not ethical constraints. a person’s compassion can in time accept and understand behaviors that are used to be uncommon and strange. and perhaps when the time is right the state may also incorporate these in its laws out of consideration and humaneness. but the law of conscience is something which will always be immune to any amendment and modification. peace.

      • Kenjie Hasaki

        I am not so sure what you mean by law of conscience. I don’t quite get your meaning. But if you are referring to what is right and wrong, I believe the state should allow gay marriage because that is right – equality before law.

        We should not judge people based on their sexual preference or orientation but by their character – Obama ( Hope I got this right).

      • slicenziuten

        i am not judging them my friend, it will only backfire on me. im sure youll understand what i meant by conscience.

      • Ayumi Water

        legal issue. “because gay couples who want to marry want their rights as a spouse recognized by the state, their right to conjugal property, to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner, to inherit from a deceased partner, etc. it’s not them screaming for religion to embrace their choice of partners. it’s them demanding for the same legal entitlements that are only exclusive to people married to the opposite sex. ”

        in the very least learn what marriage, a legally binding contract, entails and what gay couples want from it. there is form in your written English but please add much needed substance.

      • slicenziuten

        you’ll have to forgive me for the needed substance that i lack. in fact i envy you for the clarity with which you look at marriage in our modern society – conjugal, inheritance, decisions, entitlements and contracts. now, i perfectly understand what they seek from this world, yet im not quite sure how or when morality can allow what they are asking.

      • Ayumi Water

        morality can gra… ano raw?

      • Ayumi Water

        because gay couples who want to marry want their rights as a spouse recognized by the state, their right to conjugal property, to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner, to inherit from a deceased partner, etc. it’s not them screaming for religion to embrace their choice of partners. it’s them demanding for the same legal entitlements that are only exclusive to people married to the opposite sex.

  • Kenjie Hasaki

    I am not a lawyer. But I guess if the state will not allow same sex marriage; Gay couples can always resort to establishing a holding company where they can have 50:50 interest in it to make sure that his/her partner inherits the property. Likewise, they should execute deed of donation (for his 50% share) to one another in case one of them dies.

    One advantage of this, is they will not pay any estate tax since all properties are in the name of the holding company. This may not be much, but I guess this will do the trick. This will make sure that you beloved partner gets what he/she deserves.

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