Millennials care more about parenting than marriage.

The last few years we have seen extensive data on the changing face of the American family. According to the American Community Survey an annual study done by the Census Bureau, there are 104 million unmarried Americans representing 45% of the adult population. Since 2005, the majority of US households are not headed by married couples and the number of non-married-couple households have grown. The most recent data was the Obama Administration’s comprehensive report on women and girls released this month which found on average, men and women are waiting to marry.


Another study released yesterday from the Pew Research Center found that millennials (that’s anyone who is 19-29 today) think parenting is more important than marriage.

A 2010 Pew Research survey found that 52% of Millennials say being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life. Just 30% say the same about having a successful marriage– meaning there is a 22 percentage point gap in the way Millennials value parenthood over marriage.

When this same question was posed to 18- to 29-year-olds in 1997, the gap was just 7 percentage points. Back then, 42% of the members of what is known as Generation X said being a good parent was one of the most important things in life, while 35% said the same about having a successful marriage.

Pew Research surveys also find that Millennials are less likely than adults ages 30 and older to say that a child needs a home with both a father and mother to grow up happily and that single parenthood and unmarried couple parenthood are bad for society.

So much for the argument that the death of traditional marriage is pointing to the decline of family values.

As Pew Research notes, this attitude is most likely reflecting behavior change as more and more children are growing up in single parent homes or with unmarried parents. I would add that the shift in attitude in the last 14 years from Gen X’ers to millennials is due in part to the decline in the economy in the past 10 years. A decade or so ago, you may have thought you could still get married and have a family, but the financial reality of it in the millenium is a different story.

The study also shows us that millenials want to both get married and have children at the same rate. So on some level the desire to get married and have a family might be there, it is just not as realistic or necessary a goal as it used to be.

Thanks to Legba for the heads up.

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  • Matt

    I would hazard a guess that it is generally more affordable to be with a partner (married or not) and have children than it is to be single without cohabiting and have half as many children. While it is true that two earners who make about the same amount of money pay a “marriage penalty” (if they marry) and there exists a few activities or limitations that only show up when one has responsibilities to a partner (apparently most couples spend tens of thousands of dollars to get married), there are many fixed costs with having any number of children, and there are certain other things that just cost less per person when “buying in bulk” (not the least of which is a place to live). It may be more realistic to say that people value marriage less *despite the decline of the economy*.

    True story: I was having a conversation late last night with someone in his 20s, and he said one of his priorities in life was being a good father (among a couple other things), but he mentioned nothing about marriage. It’s sort of funny to have that primer and then to read this article…