Young Americans are likelier to have children without marrying than older Americans. Not so surprising.
But they are even more likely to do so amid high income inequality, a study released today in American Sociological Review finds.
Lead author Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, and his team studied 9,000 young men and women from 1997 to 2011. About half the subjects, who were 26 to 31 years old in 2011, reported having had at least one child; 59 percent of those births were outside of marriage. Previous estimates are consistent with the findings.
Here’s the twist. About 80 percent of all births in the sample were to women without four-year college degrees, and women who lived in areas with high income inequality were 15 to 27 percent less likely to be married before having a first child than women in areas with low inequality.
If income is the concern, surely raising a child is a lot more expensive than getting married, if you wed on the cheap?
“For many young adults, having children is one of the most meaningful parts of their lives. They’re not willing to go without it,” Cherlin said. “They’d prefer to marry, but if they don’t see the prospects for a successful marriage, they will go ahead and have children anyway. If they wait too long, they might not have kids.”
Because unmarried couples who have children are likelier to break up than married couples, the result can be instability for the children and more hardship for the single parents.
In studying how income inequality affects the decision to have kids, the researchers looked at jobs for people without four-year degrees — about 68 percent of Americans. They separated them into jobs more or less likely to pay wages that could keep a family out of poverty and make young people more desirable to marry. These included office clerks, factory workers and security guards.
On the other side of the coin were fast-food workers, lawn and gardening assistants, child care assistants, and parking lot attendants. If you aren’t viewed as marriage material, Cherlin said, you’re likelier to have children without getting married.
Arielle Kuperberg, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who studies how childbearing and marriage have changed over time, has found that people in areas with more opportunities for the less educated are likelier to get married.