Only roughly a quarter of U.S. adults say having children or being married are extremely or very important for living a fulfilling life, a Pew Research Center survey found.
“When asked what it takes to lead a fulfilling life, the public prioritizes job satisfaction and friendship over marriage and parenthood. Some 71 percent of all adults say having a job or career they enjoy is extremely or very important in order for people to live a fulfilling life. And 61 percent say having close friends is equally important,” according to the survey of 5,073 U.S. adults conducted between April 10-16 and published in September.
In contrast, only 26 percent say having children, and 23 percent say being married, is “extremely or very important” for fulfillment. A third say each is “somewhat important,” while 42 percent and 44 percent say having children or being married are “not too or not at all important.”
From a new Pew survey: participants rated marriage somewhat low insofar as having a fulfilling life. pic.twitter.com/c8vRbJ2puI
— Alexander (@datepsych) September 18, 2023
“Having a lot of money is viewed as extremely or very important for a fulfilling life by 24 percent of adults, while another 49 percent say this is somewhat important. About one-in-four adults (27 percent) say this is not too or not at all important,” the survey found.
Broken down by political affiliation, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say marriage and parenthood are crucial for a fulfilling life; however, voters from both sides are more likely to prioritize careers and friends.
Only 15 percent of Democrats say being married is very important for fulfillment, and 19 percent said the same about having children. By comparison, 33 percent of Republicans say the same about having children and getting married (32 percent).
In contrast, 71 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican and 72 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat say “having a job or career they enjoy” is “extremely or very important in order to live a fulfilling life.” Sixty-one percent of both Republicans and Democrats feel the same about “having close friends.”
Interestingly, women place more importance on job or career enjoyment than men do (74 percent to 69 percent), while men place “somewhat more importance” on marriage and having children.
“Some 28 percent of men, compared with 18 percent of women, say being married is extremely or very important for a fulfilling life. Similarly, 29 percent of men versus 22 percent of women say the same about having children,” according to the survey report.
Unsurprisingly, married adults are more likely than unmarried adults to say marriage is important in order to live a fulfilling life. Twenty-nine percent of married adults say marriage is extremely or very important for a fulfilling life compared to 18 percent of those who divorced, separated, or widowed, 15 percent who have never been married, and 12 percent who live with their partner. Even so, married people say job satisfaction and close friends are more crucial to fulfillment than being married.
Similarly, parents are more likely than adults without children to believe parenthood is important for a fulfilling life.
“About three-in-ten parents with children of any age (31 percent) say having children is extremely or very important, compared with 18 percent of adults who do not have children,” the report states.
By age group, those ages 65 and older place a higher value on being married and having children, while young adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely than other age groups (35 percent) to say having a lot of money is extremely or very important.
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) March 27, 2023
The results of the Pew Research survey are similar to a Wall Street Journal poll released in March of this year. That survey found that Americans do not rank having children as “very important.”
Thirty percent of respondents ranked having children as “very important,” down from 43 percent in 2019, and 59 percent in 1998, according to that survey. Adults under 30 years old were below the average, with 23 percent ranking having children as “very important.” Republicans (38 percent) were more likely than Democrats (26 percent) and independents (20 percent) to say having children is very important.
At the same time, Americans are increasingly foregoing or delaying marriage and large percentages of young Americans are single. One poll found that 63 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 29 are single, while only 34 percent of women in the same age range are single. The U.S. birthrate has also been bottoming out in recent years and has been declining for decades.
Pew Research additionally found that half of Democrats believe having fewer children is “positive” for the environment, and half of young adults believe “open marriages” are “acceptable.”