Should We Care How Long Unwed Parents’ ‘Magic Moment’ Is?

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As a country, the U.S. is pretty into the idea that marriage can strengthen new families, and a new study in the journal Demography provides some useful insights on the best time frame for marrying.

From EurekAlert!:

If unwed parents are going to get married, the best window of opportunity for that union seems to be before their child turns 3, says a new study from Duke University

Federal policies have often presumed that unmarried parents will be most receptive to marriage right after a baby’s birth, a period that has been dubbed the “magic moment.” The new study is the first to test that assumption, said author Christina Gibson-Davis.

It turns out the ‘magic moment’ lasts longer than conventional wisdom has held,” said Gibson-Davis, who teaches sociology at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and is a faculty fellow of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. “And for some subgroups, that moment lasts even longer.”

It’s sort of interesting how the U.S. treats these issues when you think of things from the psychological perspective of new parents. A lot of factors go into the basic question of whether a new family is going to work as a cohesive unit. Chief among them, for a lot of families at least, is the time/money equation — new parents, especially economically vulnerable ones, often don’t have enough of either, leading to stress and strain on the relationship.

So it’s all well and good to promote marriage via tax incentives or whatever else, but marriage alone doesn’t really address the issues that make it so hard to be a new mom or dad. Other rich countries have far superior parental leave policies, for example. Giving one or both parents paid time off to take care of their baby — now that would be a way to keep them happy, less stressed out, and more likely to stay together and raise their kids in a healthy way. Marriage is obviously a wonderful thing if it helps cement a happy, loving relationship, but given how the real world works it sometimes seems strange that we elevate it above other concerns new parents have.