A recent study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that for Millenials, neither marriage nor completing high school or college are prerequisites to having children. The study, detailed in “Changing Fertility Regimes and the Transition to Adulthood: Evidence from a Recent Cohort”, was presented to the Population Association of America.
The study, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, looked at 9,000 Americans who were between the ages of 26 and 31 as of 2011, and found that in total, 53% of women had given birth to at least one child, and 64% have had a child before marriage, reports Kathryn Roethel for The San Francisco Gate. The numbers are similar for men.
Of all births reported, 81% were to women who were non-college graduates, and 74% of those women gave birth at least once before getting married.
“Clearly the role of marriage in fertility and family formation is now modest in early adulthood and the lofty place that marriage once held among the markers of adulthood is in serious question,” sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin said in a press release.
The study also discovered that as the rate of unwed pregnancies increases, the education level decreases, writes Stephen Adkins for The University Herald. Out of mothers with a four-year college degree, 32% had a child out of wedlock. That number skyrocketed to 71% when looking at mothers who hold a high school diploma.
“The literature on early adulthood often suggests that this period can be a valuable time of self-exploration free of adult responsibilities,” said Cherlin, the Benjamin H. Griswold Professor of Public Policy at Johns Hopkins. “But this characterization would seem to better apply to well-educated middle-class early adults with their typically long period of college attendance, perhaps followed by graduate school, and their postponement of childbearing until after marriage.”
According to Jill Rosen for The Johns Hopkins University Hub , only 36% of the mothers in the study had all their babies while married.
With the data suggesting that parenthood before marriage is on the rise, some are suggesting the US needs to find better ways to support these unwed mothers. Jordan Weissmann of The Miami Herald writes that the problem with co-habitating relationships is that they tend to not last, leaving the mother to raise the child(ren) alone.
Studies have shown that women choose to have children out of wedlock for a variety of reasons. Many young adults today view marriage as the step taken after financial stability, while poorer women, possibly without career goals, view motherhood as something meaningful to do with their lives.
Weissmann suggests that instead of focusing attention on promoting marriage, the government needs to boost its welfare program to help these single mothers.
“If marriage retains its place anywhere,” Cherlin said, “it would be among the college graduates, because most of them do not begin to have children until after they are married. The difference between them and the non-college educated with regard to the percentage of births within marriage is so striking as to suggest a very different experience of early adulthood.”