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“I Have No Idea:” Uncertainty in High School Seniors’ Marital Expectations


Arocho, Rachel R. (Online ahead of print). “I Have No Idea:” Uncertainty in High School Seniors’ Marital Expectations. Population Research and Policy Review.


Despite changes in marriage’s role in young adulthood, youth in the United States report similar or higher expectations to marry than those from decades before, and very few report explicit expectations to not marry. Marital expectations may be one way to understand if the U.S. is indeed experiencing a second demographic transition, and uncertainty in those answers may provide additional information beyond simply yes and no. Using public-use data from 1976 to 2017 from the 12th Grade Monitoring the Future annual cross-sectional surveys, I found that young men and women were more likely to report uncertainty than explicitly expect not to marry, and that boys were generally more uncertain than girls. Slight changes in past decades suggest that boys are becoming more certain regarding marriage, however, and gender differences have diminished over time. Additionally, between 2008 and 2017, I found that boys with the greatest educational prospects were the least likely to report uncertainty about marriage. Uncertainty is common in adolescent marital expectations and should be considered as a possibly informative answer to questions about hypothetical marriages. Results suggest that marriage continues to hold strong meaning in adolescents’ ideals.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Article Type


Year Published

Online ahead of print

Journal Title

Population Research and Policy Review


Arocho, Rachel R.

Data Set/Study

12th Grade Monitoring the Future Annual Cross-Sectional Surveys


United States of America