Celebrity news reports over the past four decades may have contributed to the changing makeup of the traditional family and helped destigmatise out-of-wedlock childbirths in the US, a new study has found. “Celebrities typically did not apologise for getting pregnant outside of marriage,” said Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, an assistant professor from University at Buffalo.
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“But the family model also changed over time. The early model dictated that you should marry by the time the baby is born,” said Grol-Prokopczyk. “By the mid-2000s that had changed, and it became widely acceptable in the celebrity world to have a child without marrying first,” she said.
Grol-Prokopczyk analyzed nearly 400 cover stories dating from the 1974 premier issue of a popular magazine to the present to learn when the interest in celebrity pregnancies started and how the magazine’s presentation of family norms changed over time. “Academics often scoff at celebrity news, but in fact here’s evidence that celebrity culture is enormously influential in changing norms and has a very wide reach,” she said.
“For example, after Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed after having her preventative mastectomy, a survey conducted weekslater found that 74 percent of Americans knew about her surgery and the decision,” said Grol-Prokopczyk. “That attests to the fact that decisions celebrities make reach us and affect our thinking,” she said.
“There aren’t many non-marital fertility stories in the 1970s, but when they do appear there’s almost always a promise that the parent will marry by the time the baby is born,” said Grol-Prokopczyk. Beginning in the 1990s, the normative model began to
change, and by the mid-2000s, the magazine regularly showed celebrity couples who did not marry by the time the baby was born, she said.
These non-marital births were almost without exception presented as happy, morally unproblematic events. “This includes women who were partnered but did not plan to marry the partner, but it also includes so-called ‘single mothers’ who we now know were in committed same-sex relationships,” Grol-Prokopczyk said.