Pathways to Adulthood and Marriage: Teenagers’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Relationship Patterns. How Do Teens’ Attitudes Differ by Gender?

10/01/2008

Gender differences in teens’ attitudes toward marriage have changed substantially in recent years. In the mid-1970s, teenage boys and girls expressed equal levels of support for marriage, but boys were more likely than girls to want to delay getting married until after finishing college or working for several years (Schulenberg et al. 1995). Currently, boys are more likely than girls to have positive attitudes toward marriage (Flanigan et al. 2005) and a growing number of girls have followed boys in wanting to delay marriage. In this section, we describe the current gender differences in teens’ attitudes toward marriage, as well as the growing similarity in boys’ and girls’ expectations for marriage.

  • On average, teenage boys have more positive attitudes toward marriage than teenage girls do.

Across a broad range of measures, teenage boys are more likely than teenage girls to express support for marriage. For example, in the 2002 NSFG, 69 percent of teenage boys either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that it is better for a person to get married, compared with 56 percent of teenage girls (Figure III.5). Similarly, in the 2006 wave of the MTF study, more boys (41 percent) than girls (32 percent) agreed with the statement, “Most people will have fuller and happier lives if they choose legal marriage rather than staying single, or just living with someone else” (Figure III.5).


Figure III.5
Teens’ Attitudes Toward Marriage, by Gender

Figure III.5 Teens' Attitudes Toward Marriage, by Gender. See text for explanation of chart.

Source: Data on whether people have fuller and happier lives when married from the 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Other data from 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). survey. Other data from 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).

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

* Gender difference is statistically significant at the .05 level.


Teenage boys are also less likely than teenage girls to approve of having children outside of marriage. In the 2002 NSFG, teens were asked whether they agreed with the statement, “It is okay for an unmarried female to have a child.” Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of teenage girls said they approved of nonmarital childbearing, compared to less than half (49 percent) of all teenage boys (Figure III.5). These gender differences in attitudes are all statistically significant at the 5 percent level.

  • More boys than girls want to delay marriage, although the gender gap has narrowed in recent years.

Although boys are more likely than girls to have positive attitudes toward marriage, they are also more likely to want to delay marriage until later in life. For example, in the 1999 wave of the NLSY97, 24 percent of boys ages 15 to 18 said they were more likely than not to get married in the next five years, compared to 31 percent of girls in that age range (not shown). Nearly 20 percent of boys in this age group said they had no chance of getting married in the next five years, compared to 16 percent of girls. These differences are statistically significant at the 5 percent level.

Data from the MTF study indicate that the gender difference in teens’ expectations for marriage has narrowed in recent years (Figure III.6). From 1976 to 2006, the percentage of 12th grade boys wanting to delay marriage for at least four or five years increased from 74 to 85 percent. However, the percentage of girls wanting to delay marriage increased at an even faster rate, from 57 to nearly 80 percent. As a result, the gender gap in the percentage of high school students wanting to delay marriage dropped steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Boys are still more likely than girls to want to delay marriage, but the difference is much smaller today than it was 30 years ago.(1) The recent increase in the percentage of girls who want to delay marriage likely reflects new educational and occupational opportunities open to women (Bae et al. 2000), as well as broader social norms that emphasize gender equality and the empowerment of women (Brewster and Padavic 2000).


Figure III.6
Percentage of High School Seniors Wanting to Delay Marriage for at Least 4 or 5 Years,
by Gender, 1976-2006

Figure III.6 Percentage of High School Seniors Wanting to Delay Marriage for at Least 4 or 5 Years, by Gender, 1976-2006. See text for explanation of chart.

Source: 1990-2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) surveys. Authors’ calculations for years 1991-2006. Schulenberg et al. (1995) for years 1976-1986. et al. (1995) for years 1976-1986.

Note: All gender differences statistically significant at the .05 level.

 

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