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6 findings from Pew Research Center’s new survey on the American family

Marriage, divorce, fertility, family structure and more are found in nationally representative survey

SHARE 6 findings from Pew Research Center’s new survey on the American family
Illustration of a family sitting at a table.

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Pew Research Center wanted to know what Americans think about the future of U.S. families, including how they feel about various family arrangements, marriage and divorce as well as what they expect from family-related trends.

In April, the nonpartisan research center surveyed 5,073 U.S. adults who are part of its American Trends Panel, then weighted the findings to be nationally representative in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation and education, among other demographics.

The report was written by Kim Parker, director of social trends research for Pew, and Rachel Minkin, a research associate. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

Here are six key findings from the report:

  • Nearly 4 in 10 Americans are pessimistic about the future of the family. Just over a quarter — 26% — describe themselves as optimistic, while 29% say they are neither.

Respondents were asked if they view specific trends as positives or negatives for the future. The trend viewed most negatively is “fewer children raised by two married parents.” Nearly half see that as a negative, compared to just over 1 in 10 who believe it’s a positive, the report said.

More also see fewer people ever getting married as negative (36%) than positive (9%). Twice as many (29%) see cohabiting as negative than see it as positive (15%).

Meanwhile, they were nearly divided on people having fewer children, with 27% calling that negative and 25% calling that positive.

The one trend viewed more positively than negatively is people getting married later in life, 34% vs. 9%.

  • Marriage and parenthood are not seen by a majority as “extremely or very important” to a fulfilling life.

More than 7 in 10 said an enjoyable job or career is important, while 61% said having close friends is important, too. The numbers dropped considerably for having children (26%), having a lot of money (24%) and being married (23%) in the survey.

Older adults, 65 and older, were more likely to say being married is important to a fulfilling life.

The survey also found that white adults are more pessimistic than Black and Hispanic adults about marriage and family, as were Republicans and those who lean Republican, the report says.

  • Most say adult children have some responsibility to provide caregiving (66%) and financial assistance (55%) to elderly parents who need it.

Not quite a third say parents have “at least a fair amount” of responsibility to help their adult children out financially (31%) or leave them money when they die (32%).

  • Respondents see both pros and cons to falling fertility, but many see little impact.

A larger share believes having fewer children than in the past will have a positive instead of a negative effect on women’s careers and job opportunities (43% vs. 9%) and the environment (41% vs. 11%). The gap is closer when asked how falling fertility will change how family members can support each other, with 31% seeing positive and 26% seeing negative.

When it comes to money, though, the view is more pessimistic: 41% see a negative impact on the Social Security system, compared to 23% expecting it to be positive. And more than a third — 36% — believe the impact on the economy will be negative, compared to the 20% who think falling fertility will help it.

  • Personal experience has done the most to shape views on what makes a good family arrangement, with 69% saying that’s been greatly or fairly influential. Seeing what friends and family members have done is second on the curated list, with 49% saying at least fairly influential, followed by religious views (44%), what they’ve read (18%) or what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies (14%). It appears that media doesn’t have a lot of power to significantly shape opinions on the topic, with majorities saying “not much” or “not at all.”

Young adults are the most likely to acknowledge their opinions on family arrangements are influenced by media and even then it’s fewer than 1 in 4.

  • More people say unhappy couples stay in bad marriages too long (55%), compared to those who say they divorce too quickly (43%).

To see the data broken down by political leaning, age, race and ethnicity, and other factors, visit PewResearch.org.