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Key findings from the AP-WE tv poll

Associated Press
Graphic shows a AP-WE tv poll on parenting
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Graphic shows a AP-WE tv poll on parenting

An Associated Press-WE tv poll took a deep look at how Americans under age 50 feel about having children, single parents and changing family structures.

THE CHANGING AMERICAN FAMILY

-In the poll, 31 percent of all parents reported being unmarried when they had their first child. About half (47 percent) of currently unmarried women in this age group are mothers.

-Nearly half (45 percent) say the growing variety of family arrangements in the U.S. doesn't really have much impact on society, with the remainder divided on whether they make a positive impact (28 percent) or a negative one (26 percent). Women tilt toward calling new arrangements positive (31 percent say so compared with 23 percent who say it's a bad thing) and men are split nearly evenly (29 percent say they're bad, 25 percent good).

-On the other hand, 64 percent call single women having children a bad thing for society — a figure that has held steady in Pew Research Center polls on the topic back to 1997. Even mothers who had their first child while unmarried express concern that increasing numbers of solo moms are bad for society — 49 percent say so compared with 11 percent who say it's a good thing and 40 percent who say it doesn't make much difference. About half of single mothers (51 percent) say a single mother can do as good a job as two parents.

PARENTS REFLECT ON THEIR DECISIONS, IMPACT OF CHILDREN

-Three-quarters who already have children say they always knew they wanted them, and fathers (81 percent) were a bit more likely to say they always wanted kids than mothers (72 percent).

-Parents say their children had a positive impact on their love life (45 percent positive vs. 19 percent negative) and social life (37 percent positive to 22 percent negative), but more say having children hurt rather than helped their financial well-being (35 percent negative, 25 percent positive).

-Among working parents, working mothers are almost three times as likely as fathers to say their careers took a hit when they became parents (31 percent of working moms say so compared with 11 percent of working dads).

-College educated women (44 percent) and women who became mothers at age 30 or above (47 percent) were most apt to report a negative impact on their career from having children. But those same women who became mothers at age 30 or above were more apt than other mothers to say having children increased their overall happiness, sense of accomplishment and sense of purpose.

-More than 8 in 10 parents said that their decision to have a child rested heavily on having found the right person to have a child with, the joy in having children and having the financial resources to raise a child. Less than half said it was important that they reach certain career goals before having a family, and only 17 percent said pressure from parents or other family members was key. Forty percent of parents said an important factor was that "it just happened."

MOST WITHOUT CHILDREN WANT THEM EVENTUALLY

-Among those under age 50 without children, 53 percent say they want them eventually, 30 percent say it depends, 16 percent say no. Of those who do, 94 percent say an important factor is finding the right partner. Yet 42 percent of unmarried women and 24 percent of unmarried men who want children say they would consider ways to have or adopt a child on their own.

-Non-parents are more likely than those who've already had children to say it's important to consider whether they have the financial resources to raise a child (94 percent call that important) and to reach certain career goals before starting a family (72 percent say it's important to do so).

-If those parents-to-be go it alone, they won't necessarily stay that way. Broadly speaking, kids aren't a turnoff in the dating world. About 7 in 10 would start a relationship with someone who already had children, though that drops to 56 percent if the child is an infant.

-Among men, about a quarter say they would consider a relationship with a woman who's pregnant.

The AP-WE tv Poll, conducted May 15-23, 2013 using GfK's probability-based online panel KnowledgePanel, involved online interviews with 1,277 people age 18-49. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for all respondents.

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Methodology and question wording available online: http://surveys.ap.org

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