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The Divided State of Our Unions 2021

Family Formation in (Post-)COVID-19 America

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Where is the American family headed as COVID-19 finally seems to be abating? Focusing on family formation in the United States, this report considers three possibilities: (a) the “decadence-deepens scenario,” where marriage and fertility fall further in the wake of the pandemic; (b) the “renaissance scenario,” where men and women turn towards family formation in response to the existential questions and loneliness raised by the last year-and-a-half; and (c) the “family polarization scenario,” where economic, religious, and partisan divides in family formation deepen in post-COVID America.

Based on two new YouGov surveys by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and the Wheatley Institute, this report finds the most consistent evidence for the “family polarization scenario.” The “desire to marry” since the onset of COVID-19 ticked slightly upwards, by 2 percentage points overall, whereas the desire “to have a child” among all Americans ages 18-55 moved downwards, with just 10% reporting an increased desire for children, compared to 17% indicating a decreased desire. However, beyond these global shifts in family formation attitudes, which do not tell a consistent story in favor of either of the first two scenarios, there is marked polarization in desires related to marriage and childbearing by income, religious attendance, and partisanship as COVID-19 abates.


Brad Wilcox, Wendy Wang, Jason Carroll, and Lyman Stone