Millennial Parenting and Family Values

Perhaps one of the most important sections of the survey—one that will likely have a direct effect on the nation’s future social policies—came in the results on millennial views on family values.

On the whole, millennials, simply, are more tolerant than other generations in what the Pew Research Center called ‘nontraditional behaviors related to marriage and parenting’.

Millennials are the only generation to favor the legalization of gay marriage, and tend to fall more in line with Generation Xers than Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation. In regards to trends in marriage, millennials are least likely to believe that gay couples raising children, working mothers, people living together before marriage, and interracial marriages are a ‘bad thing for society’.

In looking for the reasons why millennials trend this way, Pew took a look at millennials growing up. Of the four major generations, Generation Y responded that 62% of their parents were married while growing up, compared to 71% of Gen Xers, 85% of Boomers, and 87% of Silents. A full quarter of millennials grew up with divorced parents, and another 11% said their parents were never married.

In regards to gay marriage, specifically, only 36% of millennials oppose legalization of gay marriage, bringing them a little more in line with Gen Xers, but creating a wide gap between them and their parents (Boomers oppose gay marriage by a ratio of nearly two-to-one).

Much of the gay marriage debate comes down to who we know. Not surprisingly, those who have a close family member or friend who is gay are also more likely to support gay marriage. For those under 30 that have a gay friend or family member, less than a quarter oppose marriage equality. And millennials are also more likely to have a close friend or family member that is gay (54%), compared to 46% of Gen X, 44% of Baby Boomers, and 26% of the Silent Generation.

As with most issues, thoughts on gay marriage split among demographics, with women more supportive than men, Democrats and Independents more supportive than Republicans, etc. (the topic of political activism will come later), but nonetheless, millennials, by and large, see quite a large gap between them and other generations on the topic of family values.

How could these survey results impact millennial parenting?

The topic of single/two-parent households is muddied. On one hand, one could make the argument that divorce/single-parent households is a normal outcome of a marriage or parenting for millennials, and therefore, millennials are more likely to get divorced themselves or never marry their child’s other parent. But one could also say that millennials did not approve of their parents’ divorce/single-parenthood and will try harder to make marriages work and therefore be less likely to divorce.

Millennials, on average, are getting married later than those in other generations. Research has shown that those married at a young age (generally before 25), are more likely to experience a divorce, especially in the first five years of marriage. Perhaps with millennials waiting to get married, marriages will consist of more mature, responsible spouses and therefore a higher rate of successful marriages. Or, perhaps millennials will be less likely to get married and we will see more single-parent households. The data is, well, forthcoming.

The topic of gay marriage is one that I’ve blogged about a few times (here). My wife and I will talk to Parker about this issue; that not only can marriage exist between a man and woman but it should also be allowed to exist between two men or two women. And it would appear that the majority of our millennial counterparts feel the same way.

If you go back to Political Science 101, you will see that values are most often passed to someone through two structures: family and peers. That is, introduction to certain values and very often, opinions on values, will shape to the opinions around. If your parents and friends support gay marriage, you will probably be more likely to.

I know growing up, I wasn’t entirely supportive of gay marriage, mostly because I grew up in an evangelical area of the country where homosexuality was looked down upon or not even talked about. I didn’t know any openly gay people in school, so I really had no reason to even care.

But I came to college, entered a culture where gays could be open, and became friends with them. I explored an environment that had multiple views on major issues (I can’t recall much debate in my hometown over any political issue, really). During this time, I determined that I supported gay marriage, and married someone else that did, too.

To us, marriage is a family value, and that includes same-sex unions. It absolutely is a value we plan to pass to Parker. If you think about it, millennials grew up during a time when same-sex relationships were not widely accepted, but still ended up widely supporting gay marriage when they became older. If millennials can raise their children in environments that are accepting of gays, there is no reason to think we can’t have marriage equality in this country. And with that comes a whole host of secondary benefits, such as more acceptance of gays in our schools and less bullying due to sexual orientation.

Some have made the argument that as people get older, their views on many issues tend to change, so gay marriage may be something millennials widely support now, but may not in 10 years. I doubt it, because while peoples’ views may change on certain subjects, it tends to do more with issues that affect the wallet and less about social subjects. In any case, I hope this is an issue that millennials are preparing to discuss with their children, either way. Even if some millennial parents don’t support same-sex marriage or relationships, I hope at the very least, homosexuality is discussed and children are told not to treat their gay friends and peers any differently because of their orientation.

I may be taking a break for the weekend on blogging due to work and travel commitments, but I plan to post again tomorrow or Monday on the next topic, Politics & Idealogy.

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