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Why Get Married? More and More Couples Choose to Have Kids Out of Wedlock

In America, once you have kids, not being married still isn't the norm -- but is that finally changing?

Last year, my boyfriend of eight years and I took our then 3-year-old daughter to see Disney’s The Frog Princess. I hope I’m not giving away too much when I tell you that the movie culminates in a marriage between a beautiful young women and a dashing foreign prince (both of whom had recently escaped frog-enchantment). For most of the film my daughter was pretty quiet, but in the middle of the wedding scene, she stood up and loudly declared, “I don’t like them getting married. It’s boring!” If the results of a new survey are to be believed, she’s not the only who has adopted this perspective.

The survey in question was released in March by the Pew Research Center and it asked questions about marriage and parenthood. Among other things, it revealed that while matrimony hasn’t exactly been relegated to the history books, views on the necessity of this institution—both as a statement about a relationship, and as a prerequisite for parenting—are shifting. For example, only 30 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said that, in life, having a successful marriage “is one of the most important things.” Also noteworthy, 66 percent of respondents in that age group disagreed with the statement that “unmarried, but coupled parenthood is bad for society.”

For people over 30, the number went down a bit, but at 55 percent, the majority also didn’t seemed too concerned about the negative impact created by such families. Additionally, the survey found that 12 percent of 18- to 29-year-old mothers are currently unmarried but living with their partners. Though that isn’t a huge number, it’s almost twice as many couples in this position as there were when Pew asked the same question back in 1998. Of course, it isn’t exclusively Millennials who are raising children with partners they aren’t married to. According to the latest census, 1.5 million American families of all ages are made up of kids living with their unmarried parents.

Two of those kids happen to be mine, and while I think of our family as pretty traditional with one mom, one dad, two kids and one cat, it doesn’t take Mike Huckabee ranting about the bad example set by Natalie Portman’s “out of wedlock” baby to remind me that in America, once you have kids, not being married still isn’t the norm. That’s not the case in some European countries, where unmarried but cohabitating parents are about to become the majority, if they aren’t already. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Bulgaria, for example, 50 percent of all children are born to unmarried couples.

For one of these couples, 31-year-old Jenny Litzberg and her partner, 35-year-old Johan Brink, of Gothenburg, Sweden, having a child together seemed much more natural than did getting married. As Litzberg says, “We don’t feel that we need to. We are not religious people and we surround ourselves with friends and family who often share our beliefs. We do not feel alone in our choice. To get married is not so much about religion, or money, or security as it may be for people in other countries. With some work you can get the same rights and responsibilities as if you were married. So if, or when, you choose to get married it’s more like the icing on the cake.”

The vibe is a little different in America, where unmarried parents are still viewed as something of an anomaly, and where rights that are automatically granted to married parents often have to be legally established by those who are not. Amazingly, one of these is recognition of paternity. Brette Sember, an attorney and the author of, Unmarried With Children: The Complete Guide for Unmarried Families, explains, “When a child is born to unmarried parents he or she only has a legal father if the father is placed on the birth certificate and/or entered into the state putative father registry.”

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