Is Change Always Progress?
Love, marriage, then baby carriage? Not for some millennials.
It’s no surprise that more millennials are forgoing marriage but the logic behind the decision by many couples to have kids before marriage is quite…interesting. It’s hard to trying to understand how a couple that feels it is financially unprepared for marriage could think it has the capacity to support a child. And to be clear, a couple, and that term should be applied loosely to some relationships, that is having sex but not taking steps to prevent pregnancy can’t claim that a baby is “unplanned”. That’s not the way it works. If you’re not preventing pregnancy, you’re inviting it.
Marriage, like raising children, requires intention. The decision to have a child is an incredibly important one and something I believe should be entered into with intention. There is a certain level of emotional and social investment needed that is difficult to pull off without a strong commitment. And too often a man who has little commitment to the mother of his children will eventually find his commitment to providing this type of support to his child wane–even if he still provides financial support. Add in children from other relationships and you can see how a dad with good intentions could find himself being not very emotionally involved or present in his children’s lives. Marriage plays a key role, particularly for men, because it (ideally) demonstrates a man’s commitment to a woman and, by extension, the children they will have together. It grounds a man and provides the type of relational infrastructure needed to sustain emotional ties to children born within the relationship.
Part of the reason more kids are being born outside of marriage is because many of their parents lack a clear “life script”–a clear set of steps that help guide them from adolescence to adulthood. My parents and their peers–all immigrants from the West Indies–used the script that people have used in this country for years. There are slight variations to some steps but for the most part it goes something like this: 1) complete your compulsory education, 2) continue your education or learn a trade, 3) get a job, 4) continue on that job until you can find a better job, 5) get married, 6) have children when you are financially, socially, and emotionally ready, 7) create a healthy environment for your children that supports their emotional, social, and educational growth, 8) support them so they can get to step 1, and 9) retire, and 10) enjoy your latter days and help your children as they navigate their way through the process. These ten steps are relatively simple and straightforward, but they are far from easy. There are a great number of things that are out of our control that can make this difficult, a recession or long-term health crisis, for instance, but most of the things here are within our control. Steps 5 and 6 are two of the most important because they impact both the individual and their future generations. The data on the benefits of children being raised in two-parent homes is pretty consistent. But one of the keys to success is having a plan (one that is likely to result in the life outcomes you want) and following that plan. Unfortunately many millennials either don’t have a plan or don’t follow one. What happens when you don’t have a plan? You float. You tumble. You waste time. You stay in relationships with people who yo don’t feel are marriage material but have kids with them.
Two different stories, two couples who each say they’re acting in the best interests of their children — or future children. But researcher Kuperberg says this class divide in marriage could mean even more inequality in the next generation.
The problem, she says, is not that people are having kids without being married. It’s that in the U.S., on average, unwed couples are far more likely to split up by the time their child is 5 — and research shows that can have a host of negative impacts on children.
“It leads to some behavioral problems,” Kuperberg says. “It can lead to academic problems. It just leads to kind of less of a sense of stability, which hurts their chances later on.”
How men and women handle the question of when (or if) to have children is very important. This article highlights that some couples do so after they’ve made a legal commitment to one another and worked to make themselves financially stable. Other couples do so with tenuous relationships and fragile finances. I’ll let you think about the likely long and short term outcomes for both the parents and kids.
We talk a lot in this country about the policies that are driving income inequality. But the trends reflected in this article will likely further exacerbate existing class divisions. Those who are college educated and have stable incomes will continue to marry before having children and pass on the benefits to their children.
Some will read this as evidence that marriage just isn’t that important and access to resources and services is really what matters. They might also say that cohabitation is just as good for kids. Unfortunately neither position is supported by data–or common sense.