Marriage rates are declining, leaving more adults single and more likely to never get married. Meanwhile, a quarter of parents living in the U.S. are unmarried. Women today have greater control over their educational and occupational choices as well as family life. However, as they get older, women find fewer options for relationships and a ticking biological clock eroding their fertility. 

A large and growing share of young working-age women finds themselves single and childless whether by choice or circumstances. Increasingly, the media glorifies the financial, social, and even health outcomes of unmarried, childless women. Meanwhile, they downplay — and even omit — the outcomes of married women and married women with children. Do women earn a bigger payoff by forgoing marriage and motherhood? Is there a marriage penalty? How do the financial situations of unmarried mothers compare? By examining economic data on earnings, wealth, savings, and taxes, we’ll discuss whether motherhood and marriage are a penalty or payoff.