Why Are So Many Millennials Having Children Out of Wedlock?

A new study shows that access to jobs and income inequality are shaping this generation’s decisions to start a family.

They come from a specific group of young Americans who don’t have college degrees, live in areas with high income inequality, and tend not to have very bright job prospects. The study, published this month in the journal American Sociological Review, found that in areas with the greatest income inequality, young men and women were more likely to have their first child before marriage. The areas with the largest income gaps also tended to have the fewest medium-skilled jobs….“So improving job opportunities for high school graduates, something we’d like to do anyway, would benefit the family lives of young adults and their children.”

 

A few years ago, researchers published an eye-opening statistic: 57 percent of parents ages 26 to 31 were having kids outside of marriage. Who were these unwed Millennials and why were they forgoing the traditional structure of American family?

New research from sociologists at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Melbourne has started to answer that question. These aren’t a random assortment of Millennials but disproportionately come from a specific group of young Americans who don’t have college degrees, live in areas with high income inequality, and tend not to have very bright job prospects. The study, published this month in the journal American Sociological Review, found that in areas with the greatest income inequality, young men and women were more likely to have their first child before marriage. The areas with the largest income gaps also tended to have the fewest medium-skilled jobs, which researchers define as jobs that only require a high-school diploma but still enable families to live above the poverty level—jobs such as office clerks and security guards.

The researchers—Andrew Cherlin, David Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake—analyzed the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a federal study of 9,000 men and women who were first interviewed in 1997, when they were 12 to 16, and then interviewed each year through 2011. The data showed that, by 2011, about 53 percent of those women and 41 percent of those men had at least one child. The researchers then separated the parents into three relationship categories: married, living with a partner, or single. They then matched that information to census data on income and employment in the counties where the people lived.

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