The coming-of-age of the millennial generation has brought many changes to the American cultural landscape. One major shift that has evolved is a change in the American family; many millennials are delaying marriage, if they choose to tie the knot at all.
For the generation under 35, nearly half of all births are outside of marriage. Factor in education, however, and a much different picture emerges: among young women without a college degree, 55 percent of births occur outside of marriage. For women with at least a four year college degree, that number is only 9 percent. These and other statistics support concerns of a growing class divide, one in which only the rich can afford to say “I do” before having children.
Many millennials that are now starting to have children grew up in the 80s and 90s, a time when the United States hit it’s highest divorce rate. This may be one cause of declining rates of marriage, as many new parents who were themselves children of divorced parents do not want to put their children through similar amounts of stress.
Some point to money as the major cause for a decline in marriage levels, particularly among those with less education. Fifty years ago, a high school graduate could get a manufacturing job and expect a decent, middle-class income. Today, unemployment rates for those with only a high school degree are double the rates for those with a bachelor’s degree, and the pay for high school grads is not what it was 50 years ago.
These lower rates of marriage amongst those with less education can be particularly troubling when looking at the impact on their children. The problem is not that people are having children without being married. Instead it is the fact that, on average in the U.S., unwed couples are much more likely than their married counterparts to split up by the time their child is five years old. This can create a less stable environment for the child to grow up in, which research shows can have a variety of negative impacts on a child’s development.
While these implications can be discouraging, it is worth noting that many young adults still aspire to get married. The shift is in the attitude toward the institution of marriage rather than acting as a vehicle towards stability and adulthood. Many millennials perceive marriage as the proverbial “cherry on top,” the final addition to a stable, secure life.