Rising income inequality and scarcity of jobs cause young Americans reluctant to make the long-term commitment of marriage, a key reason why many millennials are having babies before tying the knot, a new study has found.
A study led by Andrew J Cherlin from the Johns Hopkins University in US is the first to trace how the income gap, a large-scale societal trend, affects individual personal choices about starting a family.
The greater the income inequality in an area, the less likely young men and women are to marry before having a first child, according to the study.
“Does income inequality affect a young adult’s decision about getting married and starting a family?” asked Cherlin.
“We think the answer is ‘Yes’ for those who don’t graduate from college. Places with higher income inequality have fewer good jobs for those young adults,” he said.
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“They don’t foresee ever having the kinds of well-paying careers that could support a marriage and a family. But they are unwilling to forgo having children,” Cherlin said.
“So with good jobs in limited supply and successful marriage looking unlikely, young women and men without college degrees may go ahead and have a child without marrying first,” he said.
Researchers found that areas with high levels of income inequality have a shortage of jobs available in the middle of the job market.
These are jobs available to those without college degrees that pay wages that would keep a family out of poverty—like positions for office clerks, factory workers, and security guards.
Without access to this sort of work, young men can not make an adequate living. They do not see themselves as good marriage material, and their partners agree.
Couples like this might live together and have a child, but they are reluctant to make the long-term commitment to marriage, according to Cherlin.
The team studied 9,000 young people of the generation known as millennials, from 1997 when they were 12 to 16 years old, until 2011, when they were 26 to 31.
By the end of the study, 53 per cent of the women and 41 per cent of the men reported having had at least one child -and 59 per cent of those births occurred outside of marriage.
Most of the first children born outside of marriage were to women and men who did not graduate from college.
The researchers then matched that information about birth and marriage with census data on income and employment.
They found that childless unmarried men and women who lived in counties with greater household income inequality and fewer middle market jobs available were less likely to marry before having a child.
Women who lived in an area with high inequality had 15 to 27 per cent lower odds of marrying before having a first child than did women who lived in an area with low inequality.
The research appears in the journal American Sociological Review.