People 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