The Power of the “Magic Moment”: The Long-term Effects of Marital Expectations on Child Health and Relational Outcomes
Larsen, Jeffrey K.; Larsen, Jeffrey K.; Willoughby, Brian J.
Nonmarital childbearing has become increasingly common among couples in the United States. Recent research has shown that these unwed parents and their children are more likely to experience negative personal and familial outcomes compared to those families in which the parents are married. These negative outcomes include lower levels of financial stability, inconsistent paternal involvement, more behavioral problems in children, relationship instability, lower amounts of positive parenting practices, and lower levels of relationship satisfaction (Bronte- Tinkew, & Horowitz, 2009; Castillo, 2009; Huang, & Lee, 2008; McLanahan & Garfinkel, 2000; Osborne, Manning, & Smock, 2007; Osborne & McLanahan, 2007). Scholars have noted that the time shortly after the birth of a child designates a time period when both parents are generally extremely positive about their future together and hope to marry, with one study finding that almost 80% of unmarried parents indicating a better than a 50/50 chance of marrying the child’s other parent in the future (McLanahan et al., 2003). This “magic moment” shortly after the birth of a child may be a time period when some individuals begin to formulate long-term relational and family plans with their partner and may be a pivotal time to examine attitudes and expectations that are predictive of the future course of individuals, couples and families. Attitudes about marriage have been found to influence other general aspects of relational outcomes. For example, positive general attitudes toward marriage predict relationship status after one year among unmarried couples (Carlson, McLanahan, & England, 2004). Hohmann-Marriott (2009) found that couples are less likely to marry if they perceive the father’s care giving role as unimportant after the birth of a child. Taken together, family formation attitudes and expectations found shortly after the expansion of the family system may be an important predictor of future individual and relational behavior. This study utilizes the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (McLanahan et al., 2003) to investigate how marital expectation during that “magic moment” shortly after the birth of a child may influence child and parenting outcomes longitudinally.