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The Future of Families: Marriage and birth rates on the decline

By Stella ’23 and Kaelen ’23

If you were to browse through a teenage girl’s phone, you would likely come across two things: a list of names such as Ophelia or Timotheé reserved for their future baby in their notes app and a Pinterest board titled something along the lines of “Dream Wedding” with ideas for venues and dresses. Social media feeds are flooded with celebrity weddings or family vloggers sharing cute baby pictures. There was even a TikTok trend where some teens were sharing the rules they were planning on having for their future weddings. 

Although many teens are eager to get married and start a family, marriage rates have been on a steady decline in the United States. According to NPR, the gap between the birth and death rates is narrowing, meaning that the United States’ population growth is slowing.  Birth rates are also decreasing across the country and in California according to the CDC. Congress’ Joint Economic committee shows that marriage rates are also on a decline, and California’s marriage rates are even lower than the national average. However, these statistics don’t account for COVID or for teenagers opinions on kids and marriage. Is our school as averse to the idea of kids and marriage as the rest of our state and country, and how has COVID impacted students’ opinions? 

Birth rates on the decline:

For more and more Americans, the answer to the question “Do you want to have children?” is “no.” A myriad of reasons such as wanting more leisure time, the expense of raising kids and global instability have caused an increasing number of Americans to decide not to have kids. According to the New York Times, young adults and teens are less likely to want kids. 

However, not all teens feel this way, and many would still like to have children in the future. 53.2% of Marlborough students surveyed expressed their interest in becoming a parent;  those who wanted to have children cited reasons such as being able to teach and raise the next generation, and forming a loving family. 

“I would like to have kids when I grow up because I think raising the next generation and people who are going to take charge of the world is really special and important,”  Casey ’23 said. 

Still, many Marlborough students are not so sure that they would like to have children. 21.3% of students surveyed reported they were unsure whether or not they would like to have kids, and 21.3% of students indicated that they would not like to have kids. Some students stated that they just didn’t like kids, whereas other students expressed concerns such as the expense of raising children, as well as global instability. Many students expressed worry about bringing a child into the current world due to issues such as climate change and political tension.

“It is hard to imagine choosing to bring a child into the corrupted world we live in. Other factors such as hunger and overpopulation also play into my decision,” one student said. 

Another reason students are hesitant to have kids was that being a mother could prevent fulfilling their aspirations.  With less of an expectation for women to be stay at home care-givers, more young women are seeking higher education, entering the workforce and setting ambitious career goals. 

“I have a lot of goals for the future and I feel like kids become parents’ lives and are roadblocks to other things,” a survey respondent said.

Marriage rates on the decline: 

In the United States, marriage holds a lot of cultural significance. Images of wedding dresses, meet-cutes, and married couples are very prevalent in the media.There are tons of reality shows about weddings and married life and rom coms that portray marriage as a happy ending. In spite of this cultural weight, marriage rates in the US are steadily declining according to Congress’ Joint Economic committee. PBS cites many reasons for the decline such as economic instability, the concept being too traditional and high divorce rates.

63.8 % of Marlborough students surveyed said they would like to be married in the future and 23.4 % were unsure, leaving 10.6 % saying no. Many of the positive responses were conditional, and included comments about wanting prenups and expressed fears of not ever finding someone who would be willing to marry them. Some were excited about finding true love, and many were apprehensive due to the possibility of divorce and failing relationships.

“The idea of marriage sounds really nice, but there’s a likely possibility that you will eventually fall out of love with your partner, and staying in a loveless marriage doesn’t sound very pleasant,” said one respondent. 

As an all-girls school, many students uphold feminist values. Some believe the origins of marriage are tied to the patriarchy, which may affect their opinions on marriage. Student Esmé ’23 feels dissonance when it comes to thinking about marriage.

“Marriage is a very traditional concept and it’s very heteronormative and confining, so for me, while I like the emotional agreement of marriage, I think that the institution is outdated,” Esmé said. “I don’t know whether I’ll actually get married, but I like the idea of marriage; like a long term partner of some kind.” 

Another concern that came up in the survey was marriage equality. For many students in the LGBTQ+ community, marriage rights are not guaranteed. There are fears that with a conservative Supreme Court majority, the decision to protect gay marriage could be overturned. The Freedom to Marry Campaign’s website lays out the United States’ journey to legalizing same sex marriage: In California, gay marriage was first legalized in 2008, but was soon revoked due to Proposition Eight, an ammendment to the state constitution that stripped same sex couples of the right to marry. In 2013, the California Supreme Court deemed Porposition Eight  unconstutional and gay marriage has been legal in the California ever since that ruling. Nationally, gay marriage has only been legal since 2015. 

“I haven’t been raised to see marriage as something special, probably because my parents are a same sex couple,” said one respondent. “A lot of the older gay community rejected marriage because it rejected them for so many years.” 

Although marriage rates have fallen and some Marlborough students expressed fears about marriage, there is still a thriving culture of beautiful weddings amongst people and sappy love stories in the media. According to the CDC, there were over two million marriages in 2018, so marriage has clearly not disappeared altogether. 

“It sounds amazing to have someone you love and [who] loves you and wants to spend their entire life with you,” said an anonymous student. “ Of course, this is assuming that it’s a happy relationship, but having someone who vows to be there for you, who you enjoy being with, sounds like a great part of life.”

COVID-19’s impact: 

COVID-19 has a widespread impact on many areas of life, but one of COVID’s lesser known impacts is on people’s decisions to have kids and get married. According to research from Brookings, COVID-19 is estimated to lead to a significant decrease in births due to its economic and social impacts. For many, COVID-19 has led to economic insecurity, which is a major reason why people don’t have children according to the New York Times.

Additionally, COVID-19 has brought current global instabilities, such as political tensions, into focus, which has caused some people to question bringing a child into the world.

“With climate change and the dangerous political climate, I’m not sure I would want to have to introduce a new being to [the world],” a survey respondent said. 

The pandemic has not only impacted people’s decisions to have children, but also to get married. Due to safety concerns, many people who planned to get married had to cancel their weddings. While many engaged couples are still planning to get married after the pandemic is over, some have decided to hold off on marriage according to a study from the Population Reference Bureau. 

As is the case with people’s decisions to have babies, economic insecurity resulting from COVID-19 has also caused people to question marriage. Weddings can be expensive, and with rising unemployment rates due to the pandemic, more and more people are finding it difficult to afford getting married. 

However, the Population Reference Bureau states that for some, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of getting married for legal reasons. Getting married is accompanied by certain legal benefits that are important, especially during a global pandemic, such as the right to make medical decisions for one’s spouse in the event that they become ill. Others have decided to  to hold off on marriage due to the pandemic. 

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