Teen Mom, a show that caused a stir when it first aired in 2011, for supposedly glorifying teen sex and teen pregnancy, may have hit on a trend among Millennials that is a big departure from past generations.
Teen parenthood is anything but glamorous and fun for both the moms and the dads. Forget prom, senior pranks, and hanging out late with friends. Young people trade book bags for diaper bags and often postpone education and career goals to adjust to life raising a child.
This is far from a life most young people would want, yet according to new research, this is the route many high school graduates, who work middle class jobs, are choosing. When researchers at Johns Hopkins studied 9,000 millennials from 1997 when they were 12-16 years old until they reached 26 to 31 in 2011, they found that 53 percent of women and 41 percent of men had at least one child. Of those bundles of joy 59 percent occurred outside of marriage. Strikingly, most of those births were to men and women without a college degree, but working at well-paying jobs.
“The big growth in childbearing outside of marriage we’ve seen over the past few decades is not among the poor and it’s certainly not among the college educated,” says Johns Hopkins university sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin. “It’s among people in the middle, the high school educated 20-somethings. Those are the ones who have changed their behavior the most.”
“There’s a hole in the middle of the labor market,” says Cherlin. There are still well-paid jobs for such professionals as teachers and doctors and poorly paid unskilled jobs in the service industry and retail, but a lot less in between. And the people who used to find jobs there, his results suggest, are the ones who are not marrying: “We are seeing the effects of the hourglass economy.”
The researchers point to both an economic shift and a cultural shift. The economic shift is that middle-income jobs are disappearing. In the past, high school grads in America married, found a job at a plant or as a teacher in their community, married their high school sweetheart, and settled down to have kids. Think about Happy Days. However, manufacturing jobs have moved overseas shrinking the middle jobs that many non-college educated young people would take.
Culturally, childbirth out-of-wedlock is more acceptable than it was a generation or two ago. We see movies and TV shows that prove you don’t have to marry to raise a child, although in most cases its women with high-paying or high-powered jobs doing it on their own.
Researchers conclude that this generation wants kids and they’re not willing to wait. While they prefer to have children in a marriage, apparently, many of them don’t have high hopes of finding a long-term partner.
This tells us about households that as a society we should keep close tabs on. While it’s possible to raise a child alone, the challenges are far greater financially and emotionally then in a two-parent household. Layer onto that the instability and difficult future job prospects for a single-parent working jobs that are increasingly disappearing, if they lose their job they and their kids become a case for communities and in some instances the state to look after. It would be interesting to gauge the use of social services among this cohort to see if that’s the case.
While we can’t tell people how to live their lives, policymakers can stress the stability that marriage affords and encourage marriage by reducing marriage penalties in the tax code as we discuss on the Working for Women agenda. We also need to figure out how to prepare these young people with the skills and education they need to find jobs that are being created and will continue to flourish as the economy evolves.