Cecil Bohanon and John Horowitz: First comes security, then comes marriage and kids

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According to a recent Pew Research report, U.S. parents are more concerned about their children being financially independent than they are about their children getting married and having children. Eighty-eight percent of parents say it is extremely or very important that their children be financially independent. Eighty-eight percent say it is extremely or very important that their children have jobs or careers they enjoy as adults.

Only 20% of parents say it is extremely or very important their children get married or have children as adults. Only 2% of parents say being financially independent or having an enjoyable job or career is not too or not at all important for their children. While 46% of parents say getting married or having children is not too or not at all important for their children.

There are differences among groups. Thirty-six percent of Asian, 26% of Black, 26% of Hispanic and 17% of white parents say it is extremely or very important their children get married. Seventy percent of Asian, 57% of Hispanic, 51% of Black and 29% of white parents say it is extremely or very important their children go to college.

In many countries, marriage rates are declining because people are marrying later, and marriage and parenthood have decoupled. In the United States, in 1980, the median marriage age for men was 24.7 and 22.0 for women. In 2022, the median marriage age for men was 30.1 and 28.2 for women. In the United States, nearly 70% of couples live together before marriage.

The Institute for Family Studies argues that focusing on having a career and being financially independent causes people to delay marriage, have fewer children, and cohabitate. Also, focusing on being financially independent might reduce the quality of social relations, one of the primary sources of happiness and health in a person’s life. Some studies show that marriage can increase happiness. However, being a parent is difficult and can reduce happiness, especially if parents are worried about the well-being and safety of their children.

In the late 1980s, two Dutch researchers predicted a second economic transition in many countries where people would delay marriage, have fewer children, and cohabitate more. Nineteenth-century economist Thomas Malthus predicted species are more fertile when their command over resources increases. However, Malthus was wrong about humans. Humans become less fertile as incomes and opportunities grow. Our future population will likely be smaller and older, affecting labor supply and social programs.•

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Bohanon and Horowitz are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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