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Teenage Expectations and Desires about Family Formation in the United States
Robert D. Plotnick
December 2004
Paper No' CASE 090:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: J1

Tags: family formation; marriage; childbearing; nonmarital childbearing

Using data collected in 2000 on a racially and ethnically diverse sample of high school seniors (typically 17-18 years old), this study analyzes teenagers’ expectations and desires about marriage, having children, and becoming unwed parents. The study is the first to examine all six outcomes with a common conceptual framework and data set. The conceptual framework combines family context, opportunity cost, and social-psychological perspectives. Each perspective has predictive power. Race, ethnicity, gender, type of religious upbringing, parental education, and parental expectations for their child’s education are aspects of family context that consistently show significant relationships with expectations and desires. Adolescents with higher opportunity costs – as indicated by having better grades and higher expectations and aspirations for their schooling – expect and desire to marry and have children at older ages. This finding should be regarded cautiously because there is reason to think that opportunity costs and the outcomes are jointly determined. There is modest empirical support for the social-psychological element of the framework. The study investigates several explanatory variables not considered in previous research – Native American ethnicity, believing in a non-western religion, self-esteem and locus of control – and finds some to be important predictors of expectations and desires about family formation.