Adults Single and Childless: Is That the Future of Society?
By: María Alejandra Pulgar
Adults younger than 40, are delaying, if not completely foregoing, the ideas of marriage and parenting.
Such a statement is more than a social observation; it is backed by figures obtained from the US 2020 census, as well as recent studies by institutions such as the Pew Research Center and the Institute for Family Studies.
Marriage rates in the US have been declining steadily, to the point that nowadays 50% of Americans are married, compared with 53% a decade ago. People are getting married for the first time later in life, with a mean of 30 years old for men and 28 years old for women. That, in turn, impacts their willingness and ability to become parents, as many women are delaying pregnancy well into their 30s or later.
Parenthood is in peril. Forty-four percent of Americans 18 to 49 years old that have never been parents say they are “not too” or “not at all” likely to have children, whereas 74% of adults on childbearing years who are already parents do not want any more kids. The higher the educational level, especially in women, the lower the willingness to get married and be parents.
The expectation that the pandemic lockdowns would promote a baby boom did not come true. Millennials and Generation Zs, who are approaching their mid-20s, are focusing on getting better educated and solidifying their finances before committing to creating families on their own.
Looking beyond a spiritual or romantic point of view, these transformations on family structures that are occurring now will have a broad impact in the future of many aspects of society, not only in America but worldwide, where these tendencies are also being observed, even in countries with more conservative cultures.
The shift on the ideal “Life Plan”
What used to be the ideal “Life Plan” for Baby Boomers and Generation Xs has changed. Young adults were expected to begin living on their own once they turned 18; many of them either went to work or pursued higher education and moved on with their lives afterward. Marriage and children were the natural steps to follow.
That has radically changed. Student debts, jobs insecurity, health issues, among several other reasons, have pushed Millennials to either go back to live with their parents or to find other living arrangements that do not leave space for settling down with a partner or to even think of ever having children. Achieving a more fulfilling life, where they develop a career path they enjoy and makes them successful has replaced the goal of finding a life partner and founding a family for 57% of men and 46% of women under 40.
With regards to childbearing, 56% of American adults younger than 50 say the simply “do not want to have children”. Other reasons were medical (19%), financial (17%), lack of partner (15%) or the state of the world (9%).
The experiences that many of these young adults lived while growing up shaped their views towards family structures and expectations. According to the World Population Review, about 50% of marriages in the US end up in divorce, which is the sixth-highest divorce rate in the world; that figure increases with subsequent marriages. Seeing their own families crumble while growing up is one of the reasons young adults express when deciding to exclude marriage from their life path.
What will families look like in the future?
On the report about “The Future of Families 2030”, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) analyzed the social and economic impact that the evolution of families would have in the whole world.
The projections on the report concluded that by 2025-2030 families worldwide would be either “one-person households, single parent households or households without children”. Changes in the structure of families, as fundamental cells of society, have “important consequences for forward planning in a wide range of policy areas, including childcare, education, housing, elderly care, and even urban planning.”
Childless or unmarried people will have different requirements from their communities when their reach their “golden years”, and governments would need to start working towards being able to prepare their countries to timely fulfill the needs of that population: Statistically there is a higher risk of poverty for single-parent families than for couples; Elderly people without extended families, have a lesser capacity of having a caretaking network; Housing requirements for smaller families impact the developments and infrastructure investments.
An October 2021 report from the Institute of Family Studies, found that the more affluent, religious, and conservative Americans were those more willing to marry and procreate, compared with those with lesser income, secular beliefs, and progressive ideas. The deep polarization has reached the foundations of society: the creation and structure of families.
Married or not, Millennials will on time need to assume the responsibility of protecting and guiding their communities. They will need to be strong leaders, with values, willing to listen to the needs of others, and ready to reach out to everyone to preserve the wellbeing of the future families they will create.