Millennials are marrying later and less often. Comedian Aziz Ansari recently released Modern Romance, a smart and hilarious book of sociological research that discusses how technology provides us endless access to potential partners. So many options leave many millennials like myself wondering, “Why choose?” However, the luxury of choice does not extend to everyone. While marriage is declining overall across many high income countries, minorities and those with less education are even less likely to marry, for very different reasons. Researchers suggest that this pattern could be due to men’s increased difficulty in finding stable jobs, or changes in social norms surrounding marriage and family formation.
The latest issue of the Future of Children provides a timely reflection on the state of marriage and its effect on child wellbeing a decade following our original 2005 volume on Marriage. Some key results show that despite their best efforts, policies to improve the family by encouraging marriage, such marriage education and programs to improve education and workforce opportunities that would make men more “marriageable,” have fallen short. However, many couples that do not marry are not avoiding childbearing: 41% of births occur to unmarried parents. While cohabiting was once considered a precursor to marriage, it is increasingly replacing marriage, while the birth rate has remained similar, around 45 per 1,000 people, since 1990.
The Fragile Families study, which follows the health and social welfare of almost 5,000 unmarried and married parents and their children, shows that unmarried parents are less likely to stay together until their child is 5, and disruptions to family relationships can be harmful to the child’s wellbeing.
So, how do we help children? The Future of Children policy brief offers several concrete suggestions, such as offering long-acting reversible contraceptives (which include the implant and IUD, or intrauterine device) to help women delay unintended pregnancies until they are in stable relationships and ready for children. This recommendation comes at a time when IUDs are used more than ever in the US: 12% of contraceptive users chose an IUD, up from 2.6% of users in 2002. Both implants and IUDs have by far the lowest failure rates of any modern method (except permanent sterilization) and are extremely safe. Programs to provide these services can be funded through a number of mechanisms, which are discussed in detail in the brief.
For more information on the current state of marriage and childbearing and evidence for reducing unplanned pregnancy and childbirth, check out the latest issue of the Future of Children.