Hopkins Sociologist Looks at Income Inequality, Marriage, and Babies

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Income inequality is a worrisome national trend–and one that also has a very real impact on individuals’ choices, according to recent research out of Johns Hopkins.

Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at the university, tracked 9,000 millennials from 1997 until 2011, paying particular attention to trends like educational attainment, marriage, and childbirth. By the end of the study period, 53 percent of the women and 41 percent of the men had at least one child—and 59 percent of those births occurred outside of marriage, study subjects reported.

But the most striking results came when Cherlin and his fellow researchers looked at the marriage and childbirth data in light of census figures about employment and wages. They found that in areas with high levels of income inequality, young people were less likely to get married before having a child.

Cherlin theorizes that poor economic prospects in high-inequality areas discourages marriage, in a way: “Places with higher income inequality have fewer good jobs for those young adults. They don’t foresee ever having the kinds of well-paying careers that could support a marriage and a family,” he says. “But they are unwilling to forgo having children. So with good jobs in limited supply and successful marriage looking unlikely, young women and men without college degrees may go ahead and have a child without marrying first.”

Income inequality has been linked to a host of other negative outcomes, including everything from health disparities to adolescent despair.

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  1. By high income inequality areas I take that to mean cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and similar cities. Do you specify ethnicity in the complete report? I am a social worker and lived in Baltimore until age 24. Thank you.

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