First the baby, then marriage

A friend of mine recently told me about some acquaintances of hers that just had their second child, but aren’t married because they don’t feel they can afford to get married. I thought it sounded crazy. If anything’s expensive, it’s having kids! (The calculator tells me it’ll cost over $300,000 to raise each of my kids.)

Apparently this phenomenon is common. The 2010 U.S. census results are in, and for the first time there was a question on cohabitation. They found that 28 percent of new mothers were living with a partner they were not married to. So while these women have been considered single mothers in previous censuses, they may not consider themselves to be parenting alone.

According to last Friday’s New York Times article on the census, cohabitation is now widely used as a step towards marriage, with about half of cohabiting couples marrying within three years and two thirds within five years. The article says that many people will not marry until they have achieved a “basic level of economic security.” Won’t marry but will have children? I understand that the idea of abstinence until marriage is like, totally passé for a lot, even the majority of people. But I was under the naive impression that marriage coming before babies was still sort of an ideal, if only for economic reasons.

Getting married made me richer. My rent effectively went down, I had someone to share my grocery bill, and my husband brought a car to the marriage, something I didn’t have before. Kids on the other hand, just cost, cost, cost. For example I spend enough on day care every year to throw a really awesome wedding reception. Of course, if I really cared about money I probably wouldn’t have had children, and the same must be true for cohabiting couples with children. You can’t put a price on the things children bring into your life. So maybe they’re thinking they can either afford a baby or a wedding, but not both?