Cohabitation or Marriage? How Relationship Status and Community Context Influence the Well‐being of Children in Developing Nations


marital status, union formation, developmental idealism, child well-being, community context, second demographic transition


Drawing upon the developmental idealism framework (Thornton et al. Sociol Dev 1(2):69–112, 2015), this study examines the relationship between mother’s marital status (formal versus informal) and the health and schooling of children in 27 developing nations. More specifically, we consider the role of couple characteristics and the spread of modern cultural values on the relationship between marital status and child well-being. Using the Demographic and Health Surveys of 27 less developed countries, we focus on five child outcomes: delivery by a skilled birth attendant, vaccinations, child nutritional status, child mortality, and school enrollment. We find that child health and educational outcomes are positive when mothers are in informal unions, but that this benefit is largely explained by individual characteristics, as well as the community context. We conclude that both couple characteristics and trends toward greater choice and equality in family life account for the positive association between informal unions and child well-being.

Original Publication Citation

Pierce, Hayley and Tim B. Heaton. (2019) “Cohabitation or Marriage? How Relationship Status and Community Context Influence the Well-being of Children in Developing Nations.” Population Research and Policy Review pg 1-19

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Population Research and Policy Review




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor