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A Few Thoughts on the CDC Births Study

Millennials are having babies. Yes, this is certainly true. Since Millennials are the primary segment in the age range that is most likely to give birth (what my grandmother called the “fertile years”…enunciating each syllable mind you) this conclusion is broad and simple.

A recent CDC study on the trends associated with Millennials births, and other age segments which mean Gen-Xers, has some preliminary conclusions which are helpful for us who are in church ministry. Their report surveys the birth rate and other factors around births for the 2013 year. Here are some quick highlights:

1. There were 3,957,577 births in the United States during 2013.

2. The birth rate was 62.9 births per 1,000 women which is slightly lower than 2012 and represents a birth rate in older womenrecord low fertility rate. This is something that statisticians and demographers have been watching carefully, western fertility rates have been steady falling for some time now. It represents a coming shift in global population growth over the next three or four generations if unchanged. Equally concerning for these experts is that the birth rate for women in their early twenties has dropped to 81.2 birth per 1,000 which is also a record low. However, birth rates for women in their thirty and forties rose again, by 1%, to 98.7 births per 1,000 women. This is a developing trend which is worth paying attention to for a number of reasons listed below.

3. The non-marital birth rate rose again to 44.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, though births to unmarried women is statistically the same from 2012.

4. The replacement rate of births within the population continued to fall below the replacement level. That means the generation being born right now will likely be smaller than Millennials, perhaps considerably smaller.

 

A couple of quick observations from this study note that the birth rate in women between 20-39 is continuing to decline the United States. This is not surprising. If one adds the filters of women who college or graduate degrees and their place in the workforce the rate likely falls off more significantly. For many women in the United States, the primary goal of their post-high school lives no longer is finding a husband and being in the home, but it is getting their degree(s) and finding their desired career. This is a generational shift that many of our Boomer church members will not entirely understand.

Likewise, with the massive increase in cohabitation among Millennials, and the ready access to contraception this is also lowering the child birth rate. Some women are waiting until their late thirties to early forties to consider beginning families, and many times having a suitable male partner is ancillary to this later life quest.

There are plenty of other conclusions one can likely draw from this data. However, we in the Church should note these trends particularly as they intersect with those we are trying to reach. The new traditional family would be considered highly un-traditional several decades ago. Yet our goal in reaching those far from Christ isn’t to scold them or require them to conform to some older relational paradigm. Instead it should be to understand where they are coming from and craft new ministries that relate and connect well with them to draw them towards faith in Christ, whether a new faith or renewed faith.

Studies like this one from the CDC only help us better configure our ministry in this way.

17
Jul 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: pt 3, some hope

In the continuing conversation about Millennials and Marriage, too often the soundtrack is one of negativity and diminishing expectations. This leads older generations to think poorly of the succeeding generations. Of course this seems to always be the case.

However, with Millennials there is some hope in how they are approaching the topic of marriage. Though the data is thin on some of these points there are some positive takeaways for churches and ministry leaders that will hopefully be of encouragement.

As we’ve previously discussed, finding the data behind on Millennials is a difficult task. We also must acknowledge that there is a changing cultural landscape taking place underneath Millennials Marriage Hopeour feet. For Millennials, marriage will be approached differently, but that doesn’t mean they devalue marriage or will never be married. It simply means it will look different.

In fact, and this is the most important statistic available, 70% of Millennials want to get married.

Though that might be lower historically than other generations it is still an important statistic. For a generation that is the largest, most diverse, and most affected by divorce rates, Millennials are still, largely, optimistic about some key life issues.

Maybe they don’t care much for compartmentalization of politics, or for justifying class warfare, or even seeking out “traditional” forms of anything. Millennials do still care for some basic life issues. Notice that poll from Pew, Millennials still desire, by and large, to get married and, even more, to have children (74%.) Perhaps this is a good starting point.

Also, the delay of marriage signals that Millennials are careful about their commitment to another person for marriage.

marriage educationIt is often seen, by older generations, that delaying marriage is a bad thing, however for many Millennials it is due, in part, to a desire to find a suitable mate. Coupling this will continuing education, indebtedness, unemployment or underemployment, and the desire to fulfill some life goals (hiking Europe, digging water wells in Africa, seeing the world) before marriage add to this delay. Cohabitation is also part of this, though I would still argue the negatives outweigh the benefits long term. Yet all these factors

Millennials desire a truly egalitarian relationship between spouses.

While older generations still idealize June and Ward Cleaver, even though they didn’t exist for the vast majority of Americans, Millennials desire equality between the spouses. This means that decision making is not autocratic but communal. Both spouses are valued in the marriage and have a voice. Now, how Millennials work out spiritual leadership or even final decisions is not data that is available. The initial indications are that while both spouses are fairly independent, they do have more desire to come together and collaborate in decision making for many family issues.

With a growing egalitarianism, regardless of your view, there is something which needs to be egalitarian marriagepointed out about education. Right now female Millennials are 33% more likely to graduate college than their male peers. We are seeing a social shift where women are more finishing school on time and entering the workforce at a higher rate than men. Soon enough “Fair Pay” issues won’t be discussed because the women with the degrees and credential will be running the place more than men. (Surely there are other factors here but allow me this point.) It also means that women are now “marrying down” and having trouble finding suitable men. This is a significant moment of opportunity for churches and ministries with the guts, and credibility, to do something about it.

The Pew poll which is adding much of these conclusions does provide a helpful comparisons to Gen Xers. Between these two groups there are some noticeable trends that should be carefully weighed. If we were to compare these trends to Boomers and Busters, then we would certainly see wider gaps.

Our hope in working with Millennials and Marriage still should be something that sparks us towards innovation and re-engagement rather than distance. For our next, and final discussion, we’ll take a look at some ways we can do both of these in light of the data, the changing landscape, and the hope that exists. 

03
Apr 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: a changing landscape

After starting the discussion about Millennials and Marriage with a view of the data, perhaps a good second step would be to consider some primary issues affecting how Millennials are viewing and experiencing marriage.

Driving the conversation about Millennials and marriage are two issues which must be handsrecognized at the beginning of any discussion, especially by older generations:

  • Almost near universality of sexual experience prior to marriage by Millennials in America
  • The explosion of cohabitation among Millennials

 

These two factors are influencing the understanding and experience of marriage that Millennials will have and are part of any realistic conversation. On the first point, it is reasonable to assert that 90% of Millennials will have sex prior to marriage, whether in a previous relationship or the existing relationship. Christian Millennials have no notable difference than their secular counterparts in this area.  So how does this compare with previous generation? One study has pointed out that premarital sex rates have always been high since the 1920s. In fact, as USAToday reported in 2006 (which is still accurate for historical numbers), the rate of premarital sex has been steadily rising since the post World War II times. Of course this surveys all races. The challenge for Christianity in the later half of the 20th century is that it primarily understands itself as white, middle class, educated Americans. When considering trends in that socio-economic class, the rates look entirely different than other classes and races. One could say the great white myth of 20th century America has tainted our understanding of the rest of America.

However, there is a difference rising in Millennials.

Millennials MarriageBetween the generational shifts in behavior the most notable change in categories is the number of sexual partners and how religiously faithful people have increasingly engaged in this behavior. In other words, the lines between those who are not Christians and those who are, and how they approach issues of sex and sexuality has disappeared. For Millennials, first time experiences of premarital sex are only delayed by religious adherence. There still is a movement towards sexual purity and abstinence among Millennials, but is given lip service and not validated by actual actions.

The heightened, and openness, about promiscuity among Millennials has led to the second factor that is changing the landscape of Millennials and marriage: cohabitation.

Since the 1950s, cohabitation has exploded by 900%. As of now, for Millennials, 75% will cohabit ate before they are married. (Of course that number might be soft and it could rise as high as 80%-85%)  There are plenty of reasons for increased cohabitation: lower financial achievement, increased student debts, social acceptability, and even a media saturated environment that promotes this lifestyle. It is likely a reasonable statement to point out that cohabitation is here to stay socially.

There are certainly drawbacks to cohabitation. I’ve listed these in the previous post and will simply refer you there. Many pastors and well meaning leaders will cite “studies” that say a cohabitating couple is 50% more likely to divorce than non-cohabitating couples. The challenge here is that too many of these studies reflect data from a time prior to social acceptance of cohabitation. Indeed, it is likely that over the next 5 years the commonality of cohabitation will effectively nullify its effects on divorce rates for Millennials.

What cohabitation does do that is a negative is it: delays marriage, increases the likelihood of childbirths out of wedlock, creates a negative emotional impact on the relationship, has negative developmental impacts on children, increased promiscuity outside the relationship, and other factors.

Along these lines, it is too early to tell at what rate Millennials will divorce and how often. Since the preceding generations, particularly their parents, divorced at a rate unseen in history, they have seen this situation. What does seem to be happening is that Millennials are not only delaying marriage, but also have a significantly lower view of marriage than previous generations. With first-time child births to unmarried mothers in their 20s exceeding 50%, there are many issues to deal with in this entire category.interest in marriage

It is a different conversation to have with Millennials about marriage than the generations before. Particularly in light of the rising post-Christian culture that has arrived, the Church stands at an odd crossroads where it needs to carefully choose its stance and approach.

There are opportunities though, and if we look carefully we can realize them and address them appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll take a some time to talk about what these opportunities are and some ways to initially address them.

26
Mar 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: Part 1, the data

Having spent the better part of the last two weeks in preparation, delivery, and conversation about hefty theological papers, I’d like to turn to consider another conversation that is going on in some circles I’ve been working through. Specifically, this will be a few conversations about the trends of Millennials and marriage. I’ve previously discussed some of this in a post of the similar title.

Today, I’d like to begin by posting some of the best data that I’ve found in my work on First Time Marriageunderstanding this generation and our patterns for marriage.

Just today, over at the Families Studies Blog, I read about a paper that had come out recently that looked at generational differences in marriage trends. The paper was titled Breaking Up is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980-2010 by Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles. The paper is quite good and, as the title suggests, underlines the difficulty of getting precise numbers about the nature of divorce rates and relationship changes sociologically.

This is their conclusion:

“Fewer young people are getting married: over 40 % of the population in 2008 had not married by their 30th birthday, marking a fourfold increase since 1980. With the rise of cohabitation, it is likely that many couples who would have been at the highest risk of divorce in the past—for example, those entering unions as teenagers as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, or with low levels of income and education—are forgoing marriage entirely (Cherlin 2004; Smock et al. 2005). As pressures to marry recede, people can be more selective about their partners; thus, it makes sense that marriages may become more stable. We do not, however, anticipate that a decline of divorce will lead to an increase in overall union stability. Because cohabitating unions are more unstable than marriages, we expect that the rapid rise of cohabitation among the young will neutralize any decline of divorce (Kennedy and Ruggles 2013; Raley and Bumpass 2003).”

The paper contains some of the best data I’ve seen on understanding the sociological impact of Millennials and marriage while also drawing informed conclusions on the topic. As someone who works in marriage ministry with, at this point primarily, Millennials, there are some big wins but just as many losses.

One of the more significant issues that I’ve encountered in the church, and broader society, is that the older generations are looking for isolated data points that can be boiled down to simple conclusions. However, Millennials aren’t simple and their patterns can’t easily be boiled down to simple soundbites.

So what is some of the best data I’ve found? One of the first places I begin is understanding how cohabitation has impacted Millennials.

CohabitationSince Millennials are, right now, aged 18-34, seeing how they are approaching relationships prior to marriage is a precursor to understanding their views, innate or explicit, about marriage. Millennials are cohabiting at a rate of about 75%. As a result, 60% of cohabiting couples end up getting married, but cohabitation delays marriage by 18-24 months.

For Millennials and marriage, they are approaching marriage differently not based on race or even religion, but on socio-economic and educational factors. Better educated, better off Millennials are delaying marriage by 6-10 years, and first time childbirths as well, while their less educated, lower income peers begin families and marriage in their early 20s. 

How do we come by this data?

The best resource that I’ve encountered is the Pew Research Study on cohabitation.

Also see this article from, I believe a secular viewpoint, that brings some good conclusions to the forefront.

The best data I’ve seen on cohabitation and its correlation to divorce is this study from the CDC.

One of the troubling trends is that Millennials (the group most likely to be cohabitating right now) are divorcing at a higher rate than other generations, well for those who choose to marry.

Even the New York Times thinks cohabitation is a bad idea.

Right now, and the data is hard to come by because you’re primarily seeing studies geared towards Gen-Xers and Boomers, cohabitation leads to higher rates of divorce.

In the United States, researchers estimate that 40%–50% of all first marriages, and 60% of second marriages, will end in divorce. This is primarily geared at folks in their 30s. Since marriage is being delayed until late 20s the picture is harder to get at for Millennials. Couples who get married in their early 20s are two to three times as likely to get divorced as couples who wait until their mid to late 20s. Education is also a significant factor.

The real challenge for cohabitation isn’t that it leads to divorce, but that is delays marriage and have become an alternative to marriage. Because cohabitation has become so common (up 900% in 50 years) the statistics correlating cohabitation to divorce are increasingly harder to come by. There is a trend, but you have to look at couples who do not ever cohabitate (or engage sexually) prior to marriage versus the rest of their peers. That number, of sexually pure and non-cohabitating couples is so small it is hard to track.

The biggest issue that affects marriage and divorce among adults aged 20-39: religious adherence.

It will be to some of these factors that we turn next in talking about Millennials and Marriage.

24
Mar 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Free Wedding Weekends

About a year and a half ago I was sitting in a counseling session with a wonderful young couple who wanted to come get some deeper insights about their relationship as they were navigating their relational channels towards marriage. One of their pressing concerns was that a wedding was simply too expensive to pull together.

Right now, in Fort Bend County couples will spend between$26,003 and $43,339 on average for their wedding. However, most couples spend less than $10,000. You can find out how much a wedding in your locale cost over at costofwedding.com.

For this couple, $1,000 was too much to spend but they desired to get married with some kind of meaningful ceremony. So as we began to through some options, I realized that their home church (where we were sitting) had all the facilities and resources to provide them their wedding…for no cost.

In working through this idea, and realizing that one of the top reasons for continued cohabitation in many other couples is the high costs associated with marriage, we came up with the idea of a Free Wedding Weekend. This would be a no-cost wedding ceremony for an individual couple who might otherwise not be able to afford one.

This is a no-cost weekend where the church provides:

  • Venue
  • Officiate
  • Music
  • Flowers
  • Basic Photography
  • Day of Coordinator
  • A set of photographs following the ceremony

Since I enjoy naming programs what they are, we just called it “Free Wedding Weekend.” As we began publicizing the event we place key ads in local magazines and in our own congregational publications. We had no idea what the responses would look like. For our first three we filled up the spots quickly and had wonderful responses. Each couple has to fill out a form to help in identifying couples with true financial needs. This is a ministry event that we hope would be meaningful and for connecting with couples desiring to be married but have limited means to do so.

From a ministry level planning stage, the costs were minimized because we asked several key lay people to help out while also agreeing to cover their costs. We have an amazing florist who is a member and she provides the platform flowers, in plain colors, and individualized bouquets for the brides. Photography (the really hard part of the day) is split between to two wonderful professional wedding photographers who also provide the editing and printing of photos. Our ministry staff facilitated the rest of the day.

Our chapel on campus is free for ministry use and properly air-conditioned, or heated, as needed for the day. We do require two things from the couples:

1. That they fill out an application for our weekend. In the application they agree to follow our directions about schedule, ceremony style, and a few other details.

2. They attend our all day preparing for marriage workshop, or a similar program, prior to the Free Wedding Weekend.

 

As a result we are able to offer a Free Wedding Weekend twice a year for couples who need assistance of this kind for a minimal amount of budgetary allocations.

In developing the day we also realized we needed to put up some controls to best serve our church family, ministry staff, and make each session meaningful for couples. Here are a couple part of the actual schedule for the day:

  • Each couple has a 90 minute time block with the ceremony beginning 30 minutes into the time block. Brides are asked to arrive nearly ready to go and they have access to our bridal suite.
  • The ceremonies all have the same format and though we would love to accommodate requests for added parts, we cannot accommodate these requests. Each ceremony is meaningful and unique to the couples as much as possible. The ceremony lasts about 20 minutes.
  • Basic photography is provided for each couple and their wedding party. All couples receive the same shots, same number of photos, and all photos are given to them, in an open format, on a CD after the ceremony.
  • We also provide 5 photo prints of varying sizes for each couple.
  • Even though our church has a sizable facility, because of limits on our weekend activities we do not accommodate receptions afterwards.

 

All in all the ceremonies keep moving and the weekend is over before you know it. Having wonderful support staff is vital to making sure everything runs on time. Our principal goal in all of this though is uniting loving couples in marriage. We believe marriage is a unique covenant between a man and woman created by God as the first institution for this world to make this world better and that marriage is an example of the future union of Christ and the Church. Our goal is to be active agents of grace in bringing couples together.

So, that’s pretty much what our Free Wedding Weekend looks like and how we’ve been able to do some good Kingdom work through the program. Having a supportive church leadership is ultimately the key. Our next Free Wedding Weekend is the first weekend of June, so let us know if we can help out.

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Millennials and Marriage

Part of the growing conversation in so many churches concerns the rising generation of Millennials and how to effectively minister to them. As both a Millennial and a member of several staffs of established churches, there are some unique challenges in this conversation. Perhaps the most pressing is the change of perspective that has occurred between ministry models in just two generations. This change in perspective has been pushed by the changing demographics of the Millennial generation around marriage and having children.

One of the leading questions that I often begin with in these conversations is simple: What is, in a quick guess, the average ages for first time marriage among Millennial men and women?

By surveying answers we often quickly get a snapshot of how close we are attached to the reality of social change that is going on in our society. Because things have changed, things have massively changed.

The average first time marriage for Millennials is, as of the 2010 Census, 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. At this point, in early 2014, I would project that it is 29 for men and 26 for women (often depending on two factors: education and location of urban/suburban/rural.) See this chart:

First Time Marriage

For Millennials there are a host of reasons that marriage is increasingly delayed, not the least of which is growing acceptance of cohabitation, but also continuing education, less access to jobs, increased debt burdens, among other factors. The more educated a Millennial is, the longer they, generally, put off marriage.

Of course, the skyrocketing rate of cohabitation also plays into this trend. In my experience among higher educated, suburban Millennials about 66%, or 2/3rds of these Millennials, are going to cohabitate before marriage. This trend is being reflected in the number of couples cohabitating before marriage. Even though I think this number is soft (I think it is much higher) we see that as of 2012, there are 8.5 million couples cohabitating prior to marriage. This delays marriage by at least 18 to 24 months, and, even in secular eyes is a growing reason couples simply never get married:

Cohabitation

Alongside this trend of increasingly delayed marriage is the trend of delaying first time child-births in women. Earlier today I read a terrific post by Ashley McGuire at the Family Studies Blog that discussed issues around child-births and women between 20 and 40. One of the graphics that was supplied in the post showed trends of age and education for first time child-births:

average first birth

Another reality behind these numbers concerns how 55% of child-births to mothers between the ages of 20-29 are to single moms. So, we can see that many Millennial families, even in their first time marriage, begin with a blended family situation of one or more children, likely, from another relationship.

So, in seeing this trend of increasingly delayed marriage among Millennials coupled with delayed child-bearing means that most Millennials are not settling into their “family life” (or a “nested life stage”) until their mid-30s. Whereas, 25 years ago, you could plan and program for a young adult ministry that reached married couples with children in their mid-20s, this is simply no longer the case. With the effects of delayed marriage and child-births impacting Millennials, we are seeing couples in their early 40s with children heading to kindergarten.

If your current ministry uses a life stage segmented approach to ministry, these statistics and realities should begin shaping how you approach breaking out those issues. Another challenge in multi-generational churches is that, in light of these realities, older generations will not have the same life experiences so many of the younger generations sitting next them are having.

All of this breaks to beginning a different conversation about how we, as churches, are going to approach ministry and marriage related issues with Millennials. For churches with older leadership teams, those above 55, the distance sociologically and culturally from the 20somethings in our pews and chairs is increasing. As a result we need to spend focused, strategic moments planning how to reach and minister rather different life stage segments.

Millennials are approaching life differently. How we begin with grace and extend mercy has as much an impact as the truthfulness of the Gospel we proclaim. 

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