Throughout history, marriage and parenthood have been defining milestones of adulthood. But for today’s millennial generation, these social institutions are not only loosely linked, but also beginning to lose ground.
At ages 30 to 34, more than a quarter of Millennials (26%) have not yet started a family—meaning they have neither been married nor had any children, according to a new analysis of government data by the Institute of Family Studies. Another 18% of Millennials have children but have never been married. Only a narrow majority—56%—have been married before. And most of these ever-married young adults (78%) have children.
Millennials’ delay in “settling down” marks a clear distinction from earlier generations. When the Baby Boomers (specifically, the late cohort born between 1957 and 1962) were the same age, only 13% had not formed a family. And only 10% had never married but had children.
At the same time, Millennials’ family formation pattern fits in the bigger trend in American society today. Since 1970, the median age of first marriage in the U.S. has risen by about seven years. And the average age of first-time mothers jumped by about five years, from age 21 in 1970 to 26 in 2014.
Young adults of all groups today are postponing marriage and/or parenthood to some extent, but there is a clear divide across race/ethnicity, education, and gender. Some young adults are more likely to delay marriage but not childbearing, while others are delaying both.
Among the major racial and ethnic groups, Asian American young adults are mostly likely to delay both marriage and childbearing. In their early 30s, more than half of Asians (55%) have never been married and are childless, compared with about a quarter of young adults in other racial groups. This may be linked to the fact that Asians tend to have higher educational achievements so it takes them longer to finish their education, which delays their start of a family.
At the same time, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than others to delay both marriage and childbearing. About one-third of college-educated young adults ages 30 to 34 have never married or had children, compared with only 14% of their counterparts who haven’t graduated from high school. In addition, young men are more likely than young women to delay starting a family (32% vs. 19%).
In contrast, black and Hispanic young adults are more likely than others to delay only marriage but not parenthood. At ages 30 to 34, some 41% of blacks and 23% of Hispanics have never been married but have children, compared with 8% of Asians and 11% of whites. And young adults with less education are also more likely to only delay marriage but not parenthood: nearly 40% of young adults without a high school diploma had children but have never been married, compared with only 5% of young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree.
SOURCE: Wendy Wang
Institute for Family Studies