Pathways to Adulthood and Marriage: Teenagers’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Relationship Patterns. Executive Summary.. Teen Attitudes and Expectations Concerning Romantic Relationships and Marriage

10/01/2008

  • Most teens have positive attitudes toward marriage and expect to get married. In addition, a growing proportion of teens approve of cohabitation before marriage and would prefer to marry later in life.

High-school-aged teens hold complex and changing attitudes toward marriage. Most express strong general support for marriage (Figure 3). Among high school seniors, 91 percent indicate that having a good marriage and family life is either “quite important” or “extremely important” to them; 81 percent say they expect to marry some day and 72 percent indicate that they feel well prepared for marriage. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of high-school-aged teens agree with the statement, “It is better for a person to get married than to go through life being single.”


Figure 3
Teens’ Attitudes and Expectations Concerning Marriage

Figure 3. Teens' Attitudes and Expectations Concerning Marriage. See text for explanation of chart.

Source: Data on whether it is better to get married than to stay single from 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). Other data from 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey.

Note: NSFG data cover all 15-18 year olds. MTF data cover high school seniors only.


While support for marriage remains strong among teens, a growing proportion of them approve of cohabitation before marriage. Among high school seniors, the proportion who think it is a good idea for couples to live together before marriage has climbed steadily in recent years, from 40 percent in the mid-1970s to 64 percent in 2006 (Figure 4). Over this same period, the proportion of seniors wanting to delay marriage for at least five years after high school also has increased, from 27 percent in the mid-1970s to 47 percent in 2006.

  • Teenage boys have more positive attitudes toward marriage than teenage girls do; however, they are more likely than girls to want to delay marriage. Teens who live with both biological parents express the strongest support for marriage.

Across a broad range of measures, teenage boys are more likely than teenage girls to express support for marriage. For example, 69 percent of the teenage boys in our NSFG sample agreed that it is better for a person to get married than to go through life being single, compared with 56 percent of teenage girls. Similarly, more boys than girls disapproved of having children outside of marriage and agreed that people have fuller and happier lives when married. In spite of their more positive views of marriage, however, boys are somewhat more likely than girls to prefer waiting until later in life to marry. In 2006, 85 percent of 12th-grade boys said they wanted to delay marriage for at least four or five years after finishing high school, compared with 79 percent of 12th-grade girls. Although the gender gap in the proportion of teens wanting to delay marriage has persisted, it has narrowed substantially in recent years, as girls’ preferences concerning the timing of marriage have become more similar to those of boys.


Figure 4
Attitudes of High School Seniors Concerning Cohabitation and Marriage Timing, 1976 - 2006

Figure 4 Attitudes of High School Seniors Concerning Cohabitation and Marriage Timing, 1976 - 2006. See text for explanation of chart.

Source: 1976-2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) surveys.


Teens’ attitudes toward marriage are also closely linked with their family structure. Teens who are living with both of their biological parents express particularly strong support for marriage. Among these teens, 67 percent agree that it is better to get married than to go through life being single, compared with 59 percent of teens from other family types. Similarly, teens living with both biological parents express stronger disapproval of divorce and nonmarital childbearing than other teens do. By contrast, the level of support for marriage among teens is not strongly associated with their family income level or their racial or ethnic group.

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