Whether vaguely described “generations” share common characteristics is, I think, highly debatable. What is not debatable is that the rate of marriage has been decreasing steadily over time.
Credit Pew Research Center
Naturally, like any other problem, there are those who see it as a way to increase the reach of government into our private lives and dependency upon government largesse. Case in point: Want millennials to get married and have babies? Change the policies that stop us.
But what most complaints about millennial delays miss is that even if there weren’t cultural reasons for putting off marriage and parenthood, millennials would still be acting reasonably if they decided to wait to start families: Thanks to student debt, a dearth of parental benefits and the instability induced by our labor market, settling down and having kids are far riskier propositions than they have to be. Fortunately, we can use policy to reduce the risks and make marriage and parenthood more attractive, accessible options for the many millennials who do feel emotionally ready — though financially unprepared — to pursue them.
With millennials bearing the heaviest debt load in history, it’s not surprising they’re not exactly thrilled about marriage, which involves thrusting financial burdens upon a partner. One way of reversing millennials’ debt conundrum would be to forgive student debt for those already underwater and to institute free college tuition for those younger millennials and Generation Z members who haven’t yet incurred the debt that could hobble their careers and personal choices later on. Various Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have already proposed such policies. Pundits concerned about delays in millennial marriage should be the first to advocate changes such as these.
Then there’s the issue of children. We know that having a child is one of the top reasons people fall into poverty — children, after all, come with lots of expenses but no income. There are several ways to counter this frustrating fact of life, including universal paid leave so that parents — especially early-career ones who have the least savings and the greatest need for a steady income — aren’t forced to choose between paychecks and parenthood; a child allowance to cushion the costs that come with a new family member; and universal health care to cover the extraordinary price of being pregnant, giving birth, and those early-childhood checkups and immunization appointments.
This is nuts.
If these are the reasons you’ve decided to not to get married and not to have children, then, quite honestly, I really don’t want the financially feckless and those who value an ephemeral career over life reproducing. I’m damned sure that I don’t want to pay them to do so. Beyond that, much of this is counterfactual. Previous generations didn’t have free college or allowances for child care and child bearing. The tax code has historically penalized couples where both work. Children have never been cheap. Contrary to what this goof says, having children, per se, does not increase poverty but having children out of wedlock does. It doesn’t take longer for a couple to pay off two college loans than it takes two single people…in fact, it probably takes less.
Since the earliest days of man it has been realized that the solitary person is the most vulnerable in society. Without family, to expand upon Hobbes, “the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” Illness or injury can devastate a household. There is no immediate safety net in case of joblessness.
No less an authority than the Bible recognizes this (this was a reading from my own wedding):
It is better therefore that two should be together, than one: for they have the advantage of their society: 10If one fall he shall be supported by the other: woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up. 11And if two lie together, they shall warm one another: how shall one alone be warmed? 12And if a man prevail against one, two shall withstand him: a threefold cord is not easily broken.
Marriage and its logical product, children, are the cornerstone and keystone of society. They make freedom possible because without this institution the state must step in and care for the infirm, the sick, the unemployed and the elderly.
There is no doubt that the generation that is classified as Millennials suffer from some widespread sociopathies (see Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends) but there are positive signs. Millennials have a lower divorce rate than previous generations who had ready access to divorce:
The are opting to end the insanity of bearing kids out of wedlock
I have hopes that just as the pendulum of morality swung from the decadence of Georgian England back to the Regency and Victorian eras, we’ll eventually put to be the mindless individualism and the hedonism that has festered since the 60s. I’m not holding my breath. But if what it takes is not paying a bunch of slackers and grifters to have kids, then I’m pretty much for it.