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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

March 2010: How the Millennial Generation Views Marriage and the Family

The Millennial Generation in the U.S., the first generation to come of age in the new millennium, values parenthood and marriage “far above career and financial success,” according to a Feb. 24 report on a 2010 Pew Research Center survey. However, the Millennials are not “rushing to the altar” to get married, the Pew Center said.

Titled “Millennials: Generation Next,” the report profiles the roughly 50 million members of this generation currently ranging in age from 18 to 29. The often-analyzed Generation X, whose members today range in age from about 30 to 45, both resembles the Millennials and differs from them in noteworthy ways, it appeared.

While the Millennials value marriage and parenthood highly, they are “markedly less likely to be married or to have children than earlier generations were at comparable ages,” the Pew Center said. Three-fourths of Millennials “have never married,” the report said. That finding was not surprising in light of other studies showing that young people who marry today tend to do so at an older age than their elders.

And just one in eight members of the Millennial Generation, (12 percent), is both married and has children at home today, half the proportion of the Baby-Boomer generation at the same age, the report said. The Baby-Boomer Generation’s members were born between 1946 and 1964. To a large extent, the things that Millennials value in life mirror the things older generations value,” the Pew report said. “Family matters most, and fame and fortune are much less important.”

What the report said about marriage and family is the focus here. But I should note that the far-reaching survey also gathered information in areas such as the Millennials’ profound involvement with social-networking technology, how their attitude toward religion differs from their attitude toward prayer, their beliefs about government’s proper role and even their tendency to “cast a wary eye on human nature,” saying, ‘You can’t be too careful’ when dealing with people.”

The Pew report conveyed some information about the “personality” of the Millennial Generation that may well comfort their elders, while other findings may be judged disturbing or at least challenging. On the comforting side we hear, for example, that:

  • “Millennials have already distinguished themselves as a generation that gets along well with others, especially their elders,” and “they get along well with their parents.”
  • The Millennials are on track to become the “most educated generation in American history.”
  • “Millennials may be a self-confident generation, but they display little appetite for claims of moral superiority.”

However, the economic recession placed this generation’s entry into the job market on hold, and many Millennials have moved back home with their parents for the time being.

The Pew survey found that the Millennial Generation is “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” But it was clear from the Pew report that the Millennials are complex, not all alike and not easy to pigeonhole.

For example, 52 percent of Millennials in the Pew survey indicated strongly that being a good parent is one of the most important things in life to them. At the same time, having a successful marriage was listed as a strong priority by just 30 percent of those surveyed, a difference of 22 percentage points.

The Millennials also “are more tolerant than adults in other generations of a wide range of nontraditional behaviors related to marriage and parenting,” the report said. But the Millennials’ receptivity to new trends in some cases “does not translate into outright approval,” it added.

In other words, an unwillingness on the Millennials’ part to judge a development as “bad for society” does not necessarily constitute a judgment that it is “good for society,” the report explained. Sometimes, a majority or plurality of those surveyed occupies a large middle ground on specific issues, declining to pass judgment or feeling that certain social developments make “no difference.”

Nonetheless, the Pew Center said that Millennials are “more accepting than older generations” of various “modern family arrangements,” tilting more to the positive than to the negative on them.

For example, 22 percent of Millennials said that “more people living together without getting married” is bad for society, while 14 percent said it is good for society. There may have been some general level of tolerance toward this development on the part of all the rest, though they did not pronounce it good for society.

On another issue directly related to the daily functioning of many families, just 23 percent of those surveyed took a negative view of “more mothers of young children working outside the home,” while 33 percent had a positive view of this social development, with the remainder somewhere in the middle, apparently tilting toward a positive view. On an issue such as this, the Pew report suggested that views among Millennials of “changes in the American family may be shaped, at least in part, by their own experiences growing up.” Presumably, that includes experiences of a mother working outside the home.

Just 62 percent of Millennials “say that their parents were married during the time they were growing up. That compares with 71 percent of Gen Xers, 85 percent of Boomers,” the report explained, adding that “roughly one-quarter of Millennials (24 percent) say their parents were divorced or separated, and 11 percent say their parents were never married.” Thirty-one percent of Millennials say “they lived with only one parent while they were growing up.”

Among other findings of the survey, 50 percent of Millennials overall either favored or strongly favored the legalization of same-sex marriage, making this “the only living generation that tilts positive on this question.”

But 59 percent of those surveyed judged a trend toward “more single women having children” as bad for society. Religion seems to be a factor on this issue, the report said. For, “Millennials who are atheist, agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated with a religious denomination are more accepting of single women having children.”

Also, 34 percent of those surveyed felt that interracial marriage is a good thing, while only five percent judged it negatively. In a Feb 1 news release, the Pew Center said that over the last several decades, the American public, and particularly Millennials, have moved toward accepting interracial dating and marriage.

Discussing living arrangements among the Millennials, the Pew report asked what has replaced the “married-with-children household” of earlier generations for them. The answer to that question is not found in “the single-person household, which is no more prevalent among Millennials than it was among Gen Xers or Boomers at the same age.”

Instead, the report said, “Millennials are more likely to be living with other family members (47 percent), such as their parents, than were the immediate two previous generations at the same age (Gen Xers, 43 percent; Boomers, 39 percent). They also are more likely than others had been at the same stage of life to be cohabiting with a partner or living with a roommate.”

About the author 
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.