In this chapter, we examined teenagers’ exposure to and initial experiences with romantic relationships and marriage. We find that teens live in a mix of family structures, but most live with married parents — 50 percent with both biological parents and 13 percent with a parent who has remarried. The likelihood of living with two married biological parents varies substantially across various subgroups of teens, with African-American and low-income teens particularly unlikely to live with married biological parents. We also find that most teens view their parents’ marriages positively, particularly those living with both their biological parents. Teens with estranged parents hold less positive views of the quality of their parents’ relationship. Most teens report that their estranged parents have mixed or unfriendly relations or have no contact with each other.
We find that most teens date at some point. Among our NLSY97 sample members, 74 percent of 15 year olds and 94 percent of 18 year olds report having dated. Sexual activity is less common than dating, but is relatively common among older teens. Among 15 year olds, 22 percent report having had sexual intercourse, compared with 65 percent of 18 year olds. We also find that high school students are dating less than they did 15 to 20 years ago and that recent trends suggest that they are delaying sexual activity until later in high school.