Your Money or Your Wife?

A New Poll Suggests Priorities of Young Americans Are Upside Down

A recent survey conducted jointly by The Federalist and Young America’s Foundation found that “[s]ignificantly more Americans ages 13 to 22 say it’s important to buy a home and make ‘a lot of money’ than to marry, have children, and commit to a faith.”[1]

The poll, which was conducted in late April of this year and surveyed 1,600 young Americans, asked the question, “Thinking about the long term, how important do you think it is for you personally to do each of the following in your lifetime?” The pollster then suggested things like buying a home, making a lot of money, getting married, and having children. Of those surveyed, 69% indicated that buying a home was very or extremely important, and 59% said that “making a lot of money” was very or extremely important. Also highly rated were to “save some of the money you make for the future,” and to “exercise and live a healthy life style.”

Marriage is still important, but not as highly rated: Just over half of poll respondents indicated that getting married was extremely or very important to them. Just under half of women and just over half of men indicated that having children was very or extremely important. “As for items even lower on young Americans’ priority list,” the story reports, “just 52 percent said it was important to ‘volunteer in your community’ and 41 percent said it was important to attend religious services.”

Though the survey sample is pretty small, there is still certainly much to cause alarm. By this account, young Americans are a pretty selfish, short-sighted, and materialistic group. Now, let’s hope that some of this is simply due to youth; a recent Pew Research Center poll indicated that 69% of all Americans (old and young) are still likely to indicate that family provides them with the most purpose and meaning in life.[2] Regardless of what they want or wanted as young adults, most Americans still find that their families eventually matter most to them in life.

But this Federalist survey is also concerning because it shows that young Americans have it backwards, in several ways. Many media outlets have reported on the growing trend of waiting to marry until one is financially stable. But marriage, research suggests, actually has quite a bit to do with helping people obtain financial stability. Recent data indicate that married people have significantly higher net worth than do either single or cohabiting couples—about three times higher—and that they are also more likely to own a home.[3] (I have written more about this “marriage premium” in a previous post.[4])

Married people also tend to be both healthier and happier than those who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed.[5] As an Institute for Family Studies report put it, the married “have better mental health, fewer health conditions, and recover faster from illness.” We are currently seeing a “loneliness epidemic”, both in the United States and in many other developed nations around the world, in large part because marriage is on the decline. [6]

Interestingly, this survey also finds that “Young people who are religious and attend private high schools and colleges were significantly more likely than their less religious and publicly schooled counterparts to prioritize faith and family.” This shouldn’t be surprising, as decades of research have indicated that the religious (and many private schools and universities are religious) tend to marry and have children at higher rates than their non-religious counterparts.

What should be apparent is that for whatever reason, young Americans are buying into a pack of lies about what brings real joy in life. And here should come the real examination: Where are those lies coming from? From their parents, who fail to communicate the importance of marriage and family to their children? From the media, who glorify the single life? From their educational institutions, which worship the gods of financial success and career?

Americans aged 13-22 are very unlikely to actually be married or have children of their own, and are thus somehow getting the message that those experiences rate towards the bottom of life’s major accomplishments. They can be helped if those of us who are married, who have children, and who go to church, tell the truth—that marriage, children, and faith are the greatest, most fulfilling, and most exciting adventures that life offers. Living out the Gospel day in and day out takes sacrifice, boldness, and courage, but brings with it salvation, richness of perception, wisdom, and a much deeper appreciation of life here and now. Making a vow to one person, being known and knowing in the deepest way possible, is far more exciting than hooking up with a series of individuals over the life course. Holding your own baby is infinitely better than holding the keys to a home.

We must do better at storytelling, because ours is the best story of all.


[1] Joy Pullmann, “Poll: Young Americans Care More About Money Than Making A Family,” The Federalist (May 5, 2020), available at https://thefederalist.com/2020/05/05/poll-young-americans-care-more-about-money-than-making-a-family/.

[2] Pew Research Center, “Where Americans Find Meaning in Life” (November 20, 2018), available at https://www.pewforum.org/2018/11/20/where-americans-find-meaning-in-life/.

[3] Fenaba R. Addo and Lowell R. Ricketts, “As Fewer Young Adults Wed, Married Couples’ Wealth Surpasses Others,’” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (January 2, 2019), available at https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/in-the-balance/2018/as-fewer-young-adults-wed.

[4] “Premium Marriage” (March 16, 2020), available at https://salvomag.com/post/premium-marriage.

[5] Marina Adshade, “Does Marriage Really Make Us Healthier and Happier?” Institute for Family Studies (November 6, 2019), available at https://ifstudies.org/blog/does-marriage-really-make-us-healthier-and-happier.

[6] The “Loneliness Epidemic,” Health Resources & Services Administration (January 2019), available at https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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