Changes in family structure aren’t a new concept in the United States, but as a new study suggests, the family unit is still shifting. Whereas just 30 years ago, the majority of couples having children were married, births among unmarried couples began to rise. The biggest recent jump came from 2006 to 2010, where cohabitating unions went from 41 percent to 58 percent. But now there’s a new trend, and for some, it’s a clear picture of just how much the American Family is changing.
In prior years, couples that accidentally became pregnant would often get married during the pregnancy, or shortly after the birth. These “shotgun weddings” seem to have given way to “shotgun cohabitation.” In fact, researchers say that the majority of unwed births are occurring among couples that are already living together, or move in together during the pregnancy or shortly after.
“When people think of non-marital births, they tend to think of single women, but it’s really much more likely to be a two-parent cohabitating family,” Jennifer Manlove, co-editor for Reproductive Health and Family at the nonprofit research group, Child Trends.
The trend change can also be seen among teens. In fact, the largest percentage drop for non-marital birth rates between 2007 and 2012 was found among teens. Childbirth rates for those aged between 15 and 17 dropped from 30 percent to 14 percent during that time period, and rates for teens between the ages of 18 and 19 dropped from 46 percent to just 26 percent.
“That’s really a substantial decline, and it speaks to the success of various programs,” Child Trend senior research scientist, Elizabeth Wildsmith, told NBC News.
But don’t worry; marriage isn’t completely dead.
“There’s some work showing that both men and women want to get married at some point, and although they may choose to live together and have kids, they just don’t want to get married until they are more economically secure,” Wildsmith said.
Anne-Marie Rinaldi agrees.
Anne-Marie, now 34, has been with her high school sweetheart for 16 years. They’ve been cohabitating for the last decade. Four months ago, they gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Though unplanned, the couple says they couldn’t be happier.
“We don’t feel the need to rush to the altar,” Anne-Marie told NBC News. “This is the real world and marriage isn’t a necessity.”
But they do plan to get married…someday.
“We love each other, and we are okay financially, but we want to save more money,” Anne-Marie said. “I guess in some people’s minds, we did this backward, but it works for us.”
Even more interesting is that, while Anne-Marie’s pregnancy may have been unplanned…a lot of cohabitating couple’s pregnancies are not. In fact, the recent report shows that about half of all cohabitating pregnancies were planned in advance.
“What this shows is that the nature of non-marital childbearing is changing,” Sally Curtin, lead researcher on the study, told NBC News.
In fact, non-marital childbirth is changing so much that it’s practically impossible to predict what the family unit will look like just 20 years from now. But one thing is clear, cohabitation and non-marital births aren’t going anywhere.
“I think what we need is more social support to families, regardless of their structure,” Wildsmith said.
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