Why Some Millennials Are More Likely to Start Families Before Marriage
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2016 Jul 18
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on Yahoo! Finance.
A new study says that rising income inequality is causing millennials to forgo tying the knot before having children.
The paper published in the American Sociological Review says that young people who live in areas of the U.S. where there is a shortage of well–paying employment, particularly for those who lack a college education, are choosing to have children outside of marriage, as it is perceived to be the socially acceptable way to start a family.
“Young adults these days won’t get married unless they’re convinced they’ll have a long-term, successful marriage and that requires a steady income,” the study’s author, Andrew Cherlin, told Yahoo Finance Canada.
“What’s happening is that many of those people are … going ahead and having kids without marrying because they don’t see the prospect of a good marriage happening to them.”
The study examined 9,000 young people, who were part of the 1997 U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, when they were 12 to 16 years old, until 2011 when they were reinterviewed at the age of 26 to 31.
By the end of the survey, the 53 per cent of the women and 41 per cent of the men reported having at least one child. Furthermore, 59 per cent of those births happened outside of wedlock, and most of them hadn’t graduated from college.
The researchers then paired the data with income and employment information from the U.S. census. They found that men and women who lived in counties with high income inequality and fewer “middle-skilled jobs,” or employment that is accessible to high school graduates and pays above-poverty wages, were less likely to marry before having a child.
In fact, women had a 15 to 27 per cent lower chance of marrying before having a child in those areas.
While it might seem logical for people to hold off on having children because of the added expense, Cherlin said the growing acceptance of different types of family units is also likely responsible for the shift.
“50 years ago you wouldn’t have had a kid because it was not acceptable to have a (child) outside of marriage. Now, you might go ahead and have a child because it is not worth waiting a long time and risking never having one,” said Cherlin.
“To most young adults having children is an essential part of their lives … perhaps the most rewarding part of life, and they’re not willing to forgo having children. Marriage would be nice but it’s optional,” he added.
The “vast majority” of people who have a child before getting married have also not attained their bachelor’s degree and have most of their children in their 20s, which is why the study cautions that its findings mainly apply to young adults from that demographic.
Cherlin said he hopes the biggest takeaway from the study is that it opens people’s eyes to the changes that are happening as a result of the shortage of well-paying jobs for the middle of the market, which are in turn causing income inequality and then directly affecting the way people form families.
“It is important because it shows how macro trends like income inequality can reach down into the lives of parents and children,” he said.