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For Your Marriage

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

Millennials Who Marry Before Having Children More Likely to Thrive Financially

The Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute released a report on June 14 entitled “The Millennial Success Sequence: Marriage, Kids, and the Success Sequence among Young Adults.” According to the report, Millennials who follow the “success sequence” – first graduating high school, then working full time, then marrying before having children – are more likely to avoid poverty and prosper financially. This “success sequence,” named by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of Brookings Institution, is considered the “path into adulthood that is most likely to lead towards economic success and away from poverty.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Panel data found that 55% of Millennial parents (ages 28-34, considered to be the “prime young adult age”) have had children before getting married. This is a stark contrast to when the youngest Baby Boomers (born between 1957 and 1964) were the same age; only 25% had a child before marriage. Now, only 40% of Millennials are married before having children, and 27% have neither gotten married nor had children.

A pattern emerges from this data: Millennials who marry before having children are more likely to be in the middle to upper third of the income distribution. Adjusting for household size and the income of unmarried adults, 86% of Millennials who chose to marry first have incomes in the middle or top third. By contrast, only 53% of Millennials who had children first have incomes in the middle or top third, while 73% of unmarried, childless Millennials fall in this range. (It should be noted that in this study, because Millennials are more likely to get married and become parents later in life, unmarried, childless Millennials are considered “on track” if they are following the order of the “success sequence.”)

This pattern is inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities and those from lower-income families. Over three-quarters of African Americans (76%) and Hispanics (81%) are in the middle or upper third of income distribution, while 71% of Millennials raised in the bottom third of the income distribution are now in the middle or upper third as young adults. These young adults are considerably less likely to be poor than their peers who did not follow the sequence. This link between marriage and economic success is “robust” across the board: adjusting for certain factors, marrying before children will make economic stability and even success more likely.

Of those who do not follow the “success sequence,” 53% are living in poverty; African Americans and Latinos are especially vulnerable in this area. About one-third of Millennials who only have a high school degree, without the remaining two steps, are in poverty once they reach young adulthood. Only 8% of Millennials who are “on track” (high school diploma and full time job) are poor, while only 3% of young adults who have earned a high school diploma, work full time, and married before children are in poverty. That means that 97% of Millennials who follow this “success sequence” are not poor by the time they reach their prime young adult years.

What is it exactly about the “success sequence” that makes it so successful? One aspect is the stability that an education, a job, and a marital union bring to family life. This data coincides with the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life. Both ministers and lay members of the Church should pay special attention to this “success sequence” and work to encourage young people as they transition into adulthood.

About the author
Caty Long is a rising second year Master of Theological Studies student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and currently an office assistant for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.