Life, delayed: Couples putting off marriage due to economy, changing views
Wilcox says marriage provides the best chance for couples who hope to stay together. "The closer people are to marriage, the less risk there is." Plus, a "marriage benefit" brings economies of scale and more prudent financial behavior. Wilcox said studies show people are more likely to save if they are married.
But one real barrier to marriage and any benefit it might bestow, he added, is perception. Men are less likely to see themselves as marriage material — and women to view them that way, as well, — if they are unemployed or underemployed. The circles around to what the economy is doing to marriage.
Conway is convinced his group's polling and others' studies point to far greater long-term implications than people are considering. Young adults are incurring debt to get an education that doesn't provide jobs that will support them and pay off that debt or let them start families and move through traditional milestones. Their options to choose are limited. So they're not marrying and starting families. That doesn't mean they don't want to, Conway said.
"These are not self-absorbed people. They are consumers of information. They are well aware of the economic news," he said, noting young people are fascinated by stories of entrepreneurs who tackle the employment challenge differently. "They like to debate issues and think and plan for the future — and 76 percent of them think the lack of full-time jobs is shrinking the middle class."
Absent significant change, Conway wonders if a middle-class lifestyle will be an aspiration in as little as two or three years. "If you continue to lower access to an aspiration, at some point they will not aspire to it."
The effect will not only be seen in family formation and structure, but in the nation's global competitiveness and positioning, he warned. "Take a look at a population that does not grow in a world being shaped by the speed of technology and the ability to bring ideas and concepts to market quickly. ... I'm not sure it will stay competitive that long," he said.
Still, Conway's betting young people are up for the challenges. "When I think about these folks and their lives, I think about what they've already seen. They witnessed 911, volunteered to fight in two wars, cleaned up after Katrina. They have already given things up to the country and are just asking for access to work. I think that says a lot about them. The challenge will be to keep them engaged and craft policy that works. It's not their fault they are not working and have been put in a situation where they have to make a decision about putting off marriage.... They want the same things other generations have had and are concerned a lot of these things are just coming off the table."
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