Stand by your woman Celebrity couples refuse to let pregnancy rush them to altar

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It took Warren Beatty two months. Eddie Murphy, more than three years. Mick Jagger, about twice that long. Sting, though, wins the longevity prize: eight years.

How long will it take Donald Trump? Now that he and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Marla Maples have announced that she is several months pregnant, the couple is expected to follow the parenthood thing with the marriage thing.

"I think Donald, coming from a middle-class morality, will marry Marla," says New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a longtime Trump-watcher. "He just doesn't have the mentality to have a child of his raised out of wedlock."

If a wedding is indeed in the offing -- and lawyers apparently are crunching the numbers for the requisite prenuptial agreement -- the couple will be the latest in a string of celebrities to marry after they have children. Sometimes, in this celebrity version of the shotgun wedding, a long time after they have children.

Actor Eddie Murphy and model Nicole Mitchell, for example, married just last month although they have a 3-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.

"I had to do the right thing," People magazine quoted Mr. Murphy, who continued to date other women after the birth of the couple's first child. (However, he did buy a mansion in California for Ms. Mitchell to live in shortly after their first child was born, while he continued to live in New Jersey.)

For all the social and moral upheavals over the years, marrying the mother of your child persists as "the right thing" in many men's minds, sociologists say. Even among non-traditionalists -- such as couples who live together without marrying -- the idea of doing right by the woman if she becomes pregnant remains a compelling one.

"The prospect of having children is one of the main reasons cohabiting couples decide to marry," said Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins sociologist and author of several books on families. "Parents still tend to think it's better for children if parents make a lifelong commitment to stay together."

Good intentions aside, however, that commitment doesn't always hold up in the long run, he and other sociologists say. Studies show that couples who cohabit before they marry are more likely to divorce than those who marry first, then set up household.

Yet for all the celebrity parents who recently have married -- Warren Beatty and Annette Bening and Sting and Trudie Styler -- others never get around to sealing the deal. Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, for example, are engaged in a divorcelike child-custody battle without ever having been married. By contrast, other unmarried parents, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, seem quite blissfully en famille.

Their fame aside, such couples are perhaps more the norm: Pregnancy no longer automatically sends unmarried couples rushing to wed. U.S. Census statistics show that the number of couples who wed after a premaritally conceived birth (read: the bride is pregnant at the time of the wedding) has gone down over the years. In 1960, 52 percent of couples faced with a pregnancy got married; about 30 years later, that figure had dropped to 27 percent, said Martin O'Connell, chief of the fertility statistics branch of the Census Bureau.

"It isn't that common, Eddie Murphy and Donald Trump notwithstanding," said Linda Waite, a University of Chicago sociologist who specializes in family issues. "We know very little about those marriages in which the couple has children first and then gets married. It used to be thought that if women got pregnant and then got married quickly -- the shotgun marriage -- the marriages were less stable than those in which the couple married first and then had children.

"It's thought that the couple got rushed into marriage, so their choice was not as well-informed as it might have been," she said. "Also, they didn't have time to settle into marriage, accumulate assets and work things out before there were three of them instead of two. And parenthood is a strain."

Today, however, there are fewer of those classic shotgun-marriage scenarios, Ms. Waite says. Increasingly, when couples marry after a pregnancy, they had been planning all along to marry, she says, and the impending birth just pushed the event up on the calendar.

Also, sociologists say, fewer women who get pregnant feel they have to get married as quickly as possible -- as, for example, the TV character Murphy Brown, whose fictional parenthood touched off the "family values" debate during the presidential campaign last year. They may get married at some later point, either to the father of the child or to another man, but motherhood doesn't hold the same urgency for matrimony that it once did.

"It ties in with the rising age of marriage in general," said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a private research group in Washington. (The median age of brides and grooms, respectively, is about 24 and 26, up from 21 and 23 in 1970.) "There just isn't the same kind of pressure to get married today as there was in the past.

"And the percentage of people who never get married is projected to continue to rise," Mr. Haub said. "So, there probably will continue to be a lot of women who raise children in a single state."

"We basically tell them to look for a life for themselves, whether or not there's a man in their life," says Rosetta Stith, principal of the Laurence G. Paquin Middle/Secondary School for teen-agers who are pregnant or have just given birth. She is hard-pressed to name more than one of her students who has married. "It's just not a part of this population's behavior to marry because they're pregnant," Ms. Stith says. "They mirror what adults do."

Despite the Murphy Brown furor and the feeling among some that -- as Atlantic magazine recently put it -- "Dan Quayle was right," the stigma of out-of-wedlock or premarital births has faded over the years. Once, the nation was scandalized when Ingrid Bergman ran off to live in unwedded but pregnant bliss with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Today, we barely blink when Marla Maples and Donald Trump not only announce that she's pregnant, but blithely offer details on where and when the conception took place.

If nothing else, the move has revived their gossip-column quotients, which had been lagging of late. Now, the chatter is more about whether they'll marry and what kind of a pre-nup they'll negotiate.

"He has wanted her from day one to sign a prenuptial, but she would not. She said we should be talking about love and romance and not about breaking up," Ms. Adams said. "All of that is sweet, but now that she is pregnant, Mother Maples is not Mother Teresa. Now that she is supposedly having a baby, she has a lawyer."

Syndicated columnist Liz Smith says she wasn't surprised that Marla finally got her man. "They've been together a long time, and she keeps forgiving him," Ms. Smith said of The Donald's reputed wanderings, something she attributes to a mid-life crisis. "She wants to marry him. She's made a big investment in him."

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