We’ve all heard the nursery rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage,” but for Millennials, those born between 1981 to 2000, parenthood, not marriage tops the list of what’s important.

A new study by Pew Research found that more than half (52%) say being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life. On the contrary, just 30% say the same about marriage. When the survey was conducted in 1997, the gap was just 7%.

One reason for the change may be Millennials’ shifting attitude about what constitutes a family. The study found:

Millennials are less likely than adults ages 30 and older to say that a child needs a home with both a father and mother to grow up happily and that single parenthood and unmarried couple parenthood are bad for society. 

In many—but not all—respects, these attitudinal changes mirror behavioral changes. Young adults today are slower to marry than were their counterparts in older generations. Just 22% of Millennials are currently married. Back when Gen Xers were the same age that Millennials are now, some three-in-ten of them were married, as were more than four-in-ten Baby Boomers and more than half of the members of the Silent Generation (ages 65 and older). 

The delay in marriage among today’s young adults has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the rate of out-of-wedlock births. Just over half (51%) of all births among Millennials in 2008 were to unwed mothers, compared with just under four-in-ten (39%) among Gen Xers in 1997, when they were the same age that Millennials are now.

However, the overall incidence of parenthood among young adults has declined. In 2010, 36% of women ages 18 to 29 had ever had children; in 1998, that figure was 41%.

With married couples representing only 48% of US households, people waiting longer and longer to get married, and single-parenthood on the rise it makes sense that Millennials value parenthood more than marriage.

Despite their propensity to wait longer to marry, however, most Millennials (nearly 70%) still want to get married and have children one day, just not necessarily in that order.

What do you think? Is marriage or parenthood more important to you? 

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