REXBURG, Idaho — REXBURG - For Garrett and Ashlee Nield, the decision to start a family was an easy one.
But there's nothing easy about adjusting to life with a newborn, especially when the parents are full-time college students.
The Nields are part of a growing number of married students at Brigham Young University-Idaho bucking a national trend among college students to postpone marriage and children.
In 2009, the number of single people between the ages of 25 and 34 nationwide outnumbered the number of married people in that age group for the first time in U.S. history, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit research group.
At BYU-Idaho, the number of married students has grown from about 300 in 2001, when the school switched from a two-year school to a university, to nearly 4,000 this semester.
Much of that increase in married students is fueled by religious beliefs and Mormon culture, BYU-Idaho sociology professor Clint Elison said.
"There is definitely a culture among more conservative religions that you shouldn't wait to get married or to have children," Elison said.
Many of the young families at BYU-Idaho survive through federally subsidized programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, student loans and Pell grants.
Still, Garrett Nield doesn't believe welfare is an entitlement.
"I understand that some people might look at us as abusing the system," he said "But I feel like it's here to help people that are in need.
"We aren't abusing it ... later on (after graduation) I hope to make a lot of money and I'll pay taxes on it, which I hope will support people like me in the future."
The Nields are among an estimated 10 percent of Madison County residents who rely on food stamps, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Additionally, the majority of the costs of Ashlee Nield's prenatal care, as well as the birth of her now 5-month-old son, Damon, were covered by Medicaid.
Statewide, Medicaid covers 90 percent of pregnancy costs for women 18 and 19 years old and 64 percent of the costs for women 20 to 24.
Balancing the logistics of full-time parenting with a full-time college class load also is difficult.
Nursing a hungry child is a priority no matter how little sleep you've had the night before because of homework.
The Nields leave their St. Anthony home at 7 a.m. on weekdays to head for the BYU-Idaho campus. For the next eight to 10 hours, they alternate between going to class and caring for Damon, carting the boy around campus in a stroller or car seat.
Still, the Nields don't regret their decision to start a family.
"We are here on Earth to be parents, and ... (Damon) blesses us in so many different ways and brings us closer together," Ashlee Nield said. "It's worth having a child, even if we are in school."
That opinion is not shared by many college students.
According to U.S. Census data, an increasing number of college students are choosing to postpone marriage.
"Marriage has become a capstone experience," Elison said. "Americans in general still desire marriage, but (young people) increasingly delay it because they want ... stability before they take the step to get married."
Delay is not necessarily a good thing, Elison said.
"There is national concern that we aren't having enough children to support an aging generation," he said. "One of the primary reasons we are having less children is because people are waiting so much longer to start families."
The Nields have no regrets, even though starting a family means they will struggle longer to make ends meet and finish their academic programs.
Despite that, the Nields plan to continue having children.
"It's absolutely worth it - the connection and love between a mother and father and a child ... brings more happiness than anything else," Garrett Nield said.
Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com