Pathways to Adulthood and Marriage: Teenagers’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Relationship Patterns. Contents


The diverse family structures in which teens are raised, as well as their early experiences with romantic relationships and dating, may have important implications for their attitudes and expectations concerning adult relationships and marriage. For example, teens who grow up living with both of their biological parents are more likely than other teens to disapprove of divorce or premarital cohabitation (Flanigan et al. 2005). Similarly, teens who have serious romantic relationships in high school are more likely than other teens to expect to get married (Crissey 2005). In addition, attitudes toward marriage are a strong predictor of later relationship outcomes in adulthood (Fein et al. 2003). For this reason, encouraging healthy, positive attitudes toward marriage has been a common goal of recent adolescent relationship and marriage education programs (Karney et al. 2007).

In this chapter, we first describe teens’ general attitudes toward marriage and how they have changed in the past 30 years. We then describe how these attitudes vary by gender, race/ethnicity, family structure, and income level. We also examine the association between teens’ attitudes toward marriage and their early experiences with romantic relationships and sexual activity. For these analyses, we rely primarily on the Monitoring the Future (MTF) and National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) surveys. Analyses based on MTF data include high school seniors only. Analyses based on NSFG data include all teens ages 15 to 18.

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