This generational values gap helps to explain the decades-long surge in births to unmarried women – which now comprise nearly four-in-ten (37%) births in the United States – as well as the sharp rise in living together without getting married, which is something that nearly half of all adults in their 30s and 40s have done for at least a portion of their lives.
Americans of all ages acknowledge that there has been a distinct weakening of the link between marriage and parenthood. In perhaps the single most striking finding from the survey, just 41% of Americans now say that children are "very important" to a successful marriage, down sharply from the 65% who said this in a 1990 survey. Indeed, children have fallen to eighth out of nine on a list of items that people associate with successful marriages – well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," "happy sexual relationship," and "faithfulness." Back in 1990, when the American public was given this same list, children ranked third in importance.