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Parenting Is More Important Than Marriage, Say Teens & Twenty-Somethings

By Rebecca Odes |

millenials care more about parenting than marriagePeople between 18 and 29 think good parenting is much more important than good marriage, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Group. Study participants were asked to rank the most important things in their lives, including “Being a good parent” and “Having a successful marriage“.  When this question was posed to Generation Xers ten years ago, responses showed the two as fairly closely aligned: the gap was only about 7% with parenting in the slight lead. But the gap widened significantly for the “Millennial” generation. More than half of them said successful parenthood was one of the most important things in life. But less than a third put a good marriage at the top of the list: a 22% gap.

This change has been mapped to a general downgrading of the importance of marriage in our culture, a finding that has been reinforced by a range of studies, including the Comprehensive Report on the Status of American Women recently published by the Obama Administration: the first report of its kind in over 40 years.  But I can think of a few other reasons Generation 00 might care more about being good parents than good marrieds.

The rise of “Parenting Culture” has upped expectations for parents. The increase in media outlets has made it easier for people to absorb parental pressures by osmosis, whether or not it directly applies to them (yet).  This generation is old enough to understand what it means to be a good parent by today’s stricter standards,  and close enough to the experience of being parented that they might remember what it’s like to have a not-so-good one.

Divorces have also increased since GenX was little. So it may be that this is a bunch of people who’ve seen marriages fail. They get that it takes two to make a marriage work, and that you can only control your half of the puzzle. Parenting, on the other hand, is something you can get good at all by yourself, and kids of split marriages have seen their parents do just that. Which is probably part of the reason marriage is less of a priority for people in general.

If this study continues along the same schedule, they’ll be asking some of our kids this question next. I wonder what changes our own parenting will inspire….

Read the whole study here.

photo: Matteo Bagnoli/flickr

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About Rebecca Odes


Rebecca Odes

Rebecca Odes is a writer, artist and mother. She was inspired to write her blog, From The Hips, during her first pregnancy when she discovered every pregnancy book she came across made her feel anxious or irritated. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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0 thoughts on “Parenting Is More Important Than Marriage, Say Teens & Twenty-Somethings

  1. andrea says:

    This is the first generation raised in daycare centers, who actually spent very little time with their parents. The majority of their waking hours have been spent in the company of paid strangers, from birth. No surprise to me they would place parenting higher on the list of priorities than marriage. I’m sure we’re going to see a total backlash against the consumer culture that values children only to the extent that they do not interfere with parents ability to make money and buy stuff.

  2. Rosana says:

    I did not go to a daycare and I think that parenting is more important. I believe that when you are given the so important raising a person, you should give the best of you to make sure that person is well taken care of, even if you don’t spend every minute of the day with that person.

    I am sure there were Gen X kids who’s moms work full time and did not find the time to spend with their kids, the same way that there were other full time working moms who gave quality time to their kids everytime they were with their kids (like me). Same applies for stay at home moms. Not all of them enjoy staying at home with their kids, therefore they do not spend quality time with them and there are others that love having the opportunity to stay at home and give their kids quality time.

  3. Rosana says:

    I should point out that I am part of Gen X.

  4. Emily says:

    Andrea- I value marriage highly, and I also value good parenting. I work and my kids go to daycare so I can “make money and buy stuff.” Like food. If the definition of a good parent is to spend every minute with them, then I guess I fail, but I don’t think I would win any awards for mother of the year if my children were homeless and starving either. Unfortunately, life includes tough choices, but to imply that people work just so they can accumulate meaningless stuff does a great disservice to all the working mothers around the world. Shame on you!

  5. Kasia says:

    I am a millenial and not yet a parent, but I can see how this shift in importance has changed. In my experience it is as much a change in the perception of the importance of marriage as as it is increase in the importance of parenthood. I am in a committed relationship with my boyfriend and have been for 3 years, we have plans on getting married in the future, but its not a high priority for us. Even when we get married our lives aren’t going to change at all since we currently live together. Marriage, in my opinion, is just a ceremony to make your relationship legal and combine assets, which is important for stability to raise a family, and a reason to have a good time with relatives to celebrate your successful relationship. The major change in our lives is not marriage, but becoming parents, and thats what the focus is shifting to in my generation, or so I think.

  6. Kirsten says:

    I think we’re missing a big point here. Having a good marriage IS good parenting. I know people who put so much energy and thought into their parenting, at the expense of their marriage. What they don’t see it that the bad marriage is hurting their children as much as sloppy parenting would. Children need the assurance of a stable relationship between mom and dad. Modeling a healthy marriage is one of the best things you can do for your children.

  7. Janet says:

    Thank you Emily for saying that. I am a single mother and have no choice but to work and put my daughter in daycare. I certainly DO NOT work so I can “make money and buy stuff”. I work to put food on the table, pay the rent and clothe myself and my child. Work also provides health insurance so I can take care of my child if she gets sick. I would certainly prefer to stay at home and raise my daughter but I can’t. There are millions out there who can’t either, especially with our current economy.

    To Kirsten, as I mentioned, I am a single mother. Does that mean that my child is now doomed to have a horrible life? I got out of a bad marriage for the sake of my child, now it’s just the 2 of us and we’re doing fine. Families come in all shapes and sizes.

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