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Report: Millennials say marriage ideal but parenthood the priority

By Jason Hanna, CNN
Fifty-two percent of millennials said that being a good parent is very important, but 30% put marriage in the same category.
Fifty-two percent of millennials said that being a good parent is very important, but 30% put marriage in the same category.
  • Survey: Fifty-two percent of U.S. adults 18-29 say being a good parent is very important
  • But only 30% said the same about marriage, according to Pew Research Center
  • The gap was less for 18- to 29-year-olds in 1997
  • Still, majority of unwed millennials without kids say they want to marry

(CNN) -- Marriage and parenthood aren't necessarily a package deal for for Americans under the age of 30, a new survey finds. Instead, young adults say they put a higher value on raising children than getting married.

Fifty-two percent of millennials said that being a good parent is "one of the most important things" in life, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday.

In contrast, only 30% of adults 18-29 surveyed in January 2010 put having a successful marriage in the same category.

Millennials' opinion on the importance of parenting is different from when young adults of Generation X were asked the same question during a Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey in 1997.

Forty-two percent of Gen-Xers then said that being a good parent was very important to them, while 35% put a successful marriage at the same level.

There was not a strong correlation found between the marital status of their parents and millenials' views on marriage. Of those whose parents were married, 32 percent said marriage was one of the most important things. Of those whose parents were not married, 27 percent called marriage important.

The correlation was much stronger among Gen-Xers. Forty-two percent with married parents said marriage was the most important thing in life, and 23% who grew up with unmarried parents put marriage in the same category.

Young Americans are also finding less of a link between marriage and parenthood, said Paul Taylor, Pew executive vice president and one of the report's authors.

That's not shocking stuff, considering that an October survey, according to a report from Pew and Time, found that 40% of all American adults believe marriage is becoming obsolete, up from just 28% in 1978.

While millennials aren't quite declaring the death of marriage, they are not rushing to the altar.

U.S. Census Bureau data show that only 22% of the 18-29 set are married, compared with 29% of Gen-Xers and more than 40% of baby boomers at that same age.

But of the unmarried and childless millennials surveyed in October, 70% said they want to get married. And 75% of millennials said it'd be easier to raise a family while married.

"Young adults still prefer to be married when they have children and still hold marriage in high regard, but they have more options than they used to because of the acceptability of having children in an unmarried relationship," said Andrew Cherlin, professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Cherlin says the changing job markets -- including the disappearance of high-paying jobs for those with just a high school education -- and the increasing acceptance of having children outside wedlock help explain why more millennials would identify parenthood rather than marriage as very important.

"So many young adults can't see the economic basis for starting a marriage," especially those without college degrees, Cherlin said Tuesday. Those without degrees "are increasingly having children with a partner they're living with but not married to."

"The partners aren't sure they can make marriage work economically, but they're not willing to wait many years to have a child," Cherlin said.

And the Pew surveys found that millennials are less likely to believe that a child has to have a father and a mother to grow up happily.

A smaller percentage of millennial moms (47%) than Generation X moms at the same age (52%) are married, according to Pew, citing Census data. But cohabitation largely accounts for the dip: Twelve percent of Millennial mothers are living with a non-spousal partner, whereas only 7% of Gen-X moms were when they were 18 to 29.

Despite the importance that Millennials claimed to place on parenthood, they're less quick to try it out than Gen-Xers.

"In 2010, 36% of women ages 18 to 29 had ever had children; in 1998, that figure was 41%," the Pew report said, citing Census data. "When it comes to parenthood, Millennials value it more while engaging in it less than did Gen-Xers."

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