The Importance (or Unimportance) of Marriage


Lisa Belkin over at The NYTimes Motherlode blog reported that there's been a shift in the importance of parenting and partnership for the Millenial generation. Marriage is less of a priority than ever -- but how do young Millenial parents (clearly the minority) feel about the issue?

When The Pew Research Center asked Gen-Xers which they'd want more if they they had to choose, 42 percent said "being a good parent," while 35 percent said "having a successful marriage." Yet when the Millenials were asked the question, the majority (52 percent) said parenting was a higher priority. Millenials were also less likely to believe a child needs "both a mother and a father to grow up happily" and least likely to agree that "more unmarried couples raising children is a bad thing for society." And to top it off, 44 percent of Millenials believe the institution of marriage is "obsolete" (up from 37 percent of Gen-Xers).

Perhaps it's because more of us have divorced parents. Maybe it's because unmarried parents have become normal. Or maybe it's because we saw the "stay together for the kids" mentality crumble around our families. But while more young people are delaying getting married (or avoiding marriage altogether), the number of out-of-wedlock births is drastically higher for this generation. (51% of all births in 2008 were to unwed mothers, compared to 39% of Gen-Xers in 1997). That's evidence enough of a shift in our values and priorities as a generation.

So the question is: Which is most important to you: having a successful marriage or being a good parent? And along the same lines: How important is the institution of "marriage" to you? 

Those who choose marriage will think that having a happy, lasting marriage is the most important example to show children, therefore having a successful marriage is the way to be a good parent. Those who choose parenting will agree that there are many paths to being a good parent, and marriage isn't the end all be all. (And let's not forget that getting married under the age of 25 drastically increases our risk of getting divorced. Does this affect your answer?)

I know the answers will vary with factors like religion and geography, but I'm interested to know what you think. My answers are complex and long-winded, so I'll leave this one up to you.

Infographic source: Tiffany Farrant and, based on information by The National Marriage Project.