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July 13 2017

Study: Marrying Before Having Kids is a Strong Path to Success for Millennials

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

The lyrics “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage,” could have renewed meaning for Millennials in light of research that finds marrying before having children improves their chances of financial success.

The American Enterprise Institute released a new report on Millennials, their marriage and parenting habits, and the impact that the order of those adulthood milestones has on their financial future. The findings are not startling, but underscore previous research about the power of marriage and families.

A surprisingly 55 percent of young adult parents (28-34) had a baby before they got married or are still unmarried. In the 28-34 age range, four out of ten Millennials (40 percent) married first, another third (33 percent) had children outside of marriage or remain unmarried parents, and nearly a third (27 percent) achieved neither milestone. When we compare these rates to Baby Boomers, we see that Millennials are on a divergent path from their parents. When they were 18-34, two out of three Baby Boomers (67 percent) married first, while 20 percent had children out of wedlock or remained unmarried with kids, and just 13 percent have achieved neither.

The impacts of these decisions on Millennials are clear:

-          Over half (52 percent) who married first have middle and high incomes, while almost half (47 percent) who have a baby first earn low incomes

-          Most Millennials who grew up poor but married before having kids were more likely to climb up the economic ladder to the middle class or higher

-          A whopping majority of Millennials who get at least a high school diploma, work, marry, then have children (the so-called “success sequence”) don’t end up poor

These findings apparently hold true regardless of race and ethnicity as well. Over three out of four (76 percent) African Americans and eight out of ten (81 percent) of Hispanic young adults who married first are in the middle or upper third of the income distribution, as are 87% of white Millennials.

The report explains why these pillars are the foundation for success:

Why might these three factors be so important for young adults today? Education confers knowledge, skills, access to social networks, and credentials that give today’s young adults a leg up in the labor force. Sustained full-time employment provides not only a basic floor for household income but, in many cases, opportunities for promotions that further boost income. Stable marriage seems to foster economies of scale, income pooling, and greater work effort from men, and to protect adults from the costs of multiple partner fertility and family instability. Moreover, the sequencing of these factors is important insofar as young men and women are more likely to earn a decent income if they have at least acquired a high school education, and young marrieds are more likely to stay together if they have a modicum of education and a steady income. So, it’s not just that education, work, and marriage independently seem to matter, but the sequencing of education, work, and marriage may also increase the odds of financial success for today’s young adults.

Policymakers are encouraged by the report to pursue policies that support all three legs of success: education, work, and marriage. The report focused on apprenticeships as a way to deliver high-level occupational skills through work-based learning programs. AEI also suggested public and private campaigns to promote marriage and the success series.

What’s missing from this report are the social norms and cultural shifts that have made marriage less appealing as an institution to Millennials. These young people may be cautious because of their parents’ failed marriages or they are more interested in casual dating which confers some of the benefits of marriage without the commitment. Business Insider captured thoughts from relationship experts:

“Millennials aren’t big on tradition,” relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “They prefer hanging out to dating, renting to buying and living together to marriage. It’s not that they don’t want a commitment — they do. They are having meaningful relationships and there have been studies that show they’re actually having less sex at their age than prior generations — so it’s not they want freedom to sleep around. They just don’t want to get married.”

“The paradigms are shifting and the old model requiring marriage vows to validate one's relationship doesn't appeal,” psychologist, relationship expert and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life Antonia Hall, tells Bustle. “Many Millennials were raised with rising divorce rates and broken homes, so they're far less likely to buy into marriage as the only or best form of relationship for themselves. Add to that the increase in educational costs and debt, and Millennials feel less financially secure, which makes entering into what's considered a binding contract with their significant other far less appealing. With everything from hookup culture to poly lifestyles and open relationships, there's an emerging expansion of views on what partnerships can look like. This has led to a desire to exploring more than the outdated 'one method for all' that is marriage."

Marriage may not be in vogue with everyone in this generation, but they should know that it is still a solid path to a secure financial future.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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