In China, premarital sexual and reproductive behavior is seldom considered and poorly understood. Increases in premarital pregnancy are thought to not only illuminate a decoupling of marriage and sexual/reproductive behavior but also serve as a key feature of family change in East Asia. This study assesses change across cohorts in the likelihood of premarital pregnancy and the extent to which change differs by educational attainment. Drawing on the 2017 China Fertility Survey, we apply a discrete‐time, competing‐risk survival analysis to a nationally representative sample of 221,990 women born between 1960 and 1999. Women born in the 1980s and 1990s are more likely than those born in the 1960s and 1970s to experience a pregnancy prior to first marriage. This cohort trend is driven by increases in premarital pregnancy among women with a high school education or less. The less educated women and their college counterparts increasingly diverge in the likelihood of experiencing a premarital pregnancy. The diverging patterns of premarital pregnancy underscore the urgency to shift the focus of China's family planning programs from fertility control to reproductive health, with an emphasis on providing information and services to disadvantaged unmarried individuals.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.