Volume 39 - Article 8 | Pages 251–284  

Celebrity culture and demographic change: The case of celebrity nonmarital fertility, 1974–2014

By Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk


Background: In recent years, demographers have proposed increasingly sophisticated models of culture’s relationship to demographic patterns and change. However, little research theorizes or empirically examines how celebrity culture might shape demographic norms, despite the pervasiveness of celebrity news.

Objective: I argue that demographic theories of culture and social networks can be fruitfully expanded to address the role of celebrity culture. Empirically, I evaluate the quality and quantity of US news on celebrity nonmarital fertility since the mid-1970s, examining dominant framings of and responses to nonmarital fertility, and comparing celebrities’ nonmarital birth ratios to those of the general US population.

Methods: People magazine covers, 1974–2014, were coded for all celebrity fertility-related stories, and analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively. Nonmarital birth ratios from People were compared with those from US vital statistics.

Results: People has consistently presented nonmarital conceptions – and, in its later years, nonmarital births – in a highly positive light. Celebrity fertility-related news spiked appreciably beginning approximately in the year 2000. Engagement (rather than marriage) has become an increasingly common response to celebrity nonmarital conceptions. Celebrities have lower nonmarital fertility rates than the general population, but among non-Hispanic whites who attended college, celebrities have had higher rates.

Contribution: News about celebrity fertility is increasingly common, and highlights positive framings of nonmarital fertility. Although these findings do not permit strong causal claims, they suggest that celebrity news may have contributed to the destigmatization of US nonmarital fertility, especially among college-educated non-Hispanic whites. Demographic research could benefit from deeper scholarly engagement with celebrity and popular culture.

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