Marriage: The Anti-Poverty Weapon

Marriage: The Anti-Poverty Weapon

It was all over the news last week: “U.S. poverty heads toward highest level in 50 years.” Other countries around the world, notably Greece and Spain, continue to struggle with insolvency and surging rates of poverty. Economists and other experts point to all sorts of reasons: unemployment, the global recession, strains on government safety nets, globalization, outsourcing, automation…. But I have yet to read anything this week that points to the greatest contributing factor to poverty – the breakdown of marriage and family.

Forgotten in the conversation is the fact that marriage is the strongest anti-poverty weapon that we have! In fact, several years ago the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution pointed out that “the proliferation of single-parent households accounts for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since the early 1970s.” (1)

In 2003, noting the dramatic difference in poverty rates between married-couple families and single mother families, Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation wondered what would happen if the parents of 3.93 million children living in poverty had married. So using the marriage rates from 1960, he theoretically “married” those parents. The result: instead of 3.93 million children living in poverty, we would have 0.75 million children living in poverty. You can see the details of his analysis

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau: A child living with two married parents is more than three times less likely to be living in poverty than a child living with either a single or cohabiting mother, or with both unmarried biological parents. (2)

Non-marital childbearing and cohabitation at the center of the problem

Single parent homes are rapidly becoming the norm. As the ranks of the unwed mothers climb (41 percent of all births in the U.S. and over 70 percent in the African-American community), no one seems to dare mention the critical importance of marriage. Even though much is said about the poverty of unwed mothers and their children, there is an extreme reluctance to mention pre-marital sex, non-marital childbearing and cohabitation as a focal point of the problem.

Few want to discuss how, on average, those who live together without the benefit of marriage will see a 58 percent reduction in their lifetime wealth relative to those who are married.(3) [75 percent reduction in wealth for those who never long-term partner or marry at all.] Or, that the poverty rate for children living in cohabiting households is about five times the poverty rate of married couple households [31 percent vs. 6 percent]. (4)

Few are willing to talk about the effects of divorce and its affect on wages and the economic stability of individuals, particularly women and children, nor its impact on family wealth overall.

This much we know and must talk about:

No other social institution has ever provided or will ever provide the same level of benefits as marriage between a man and a woman. Objective studies have consistently shown that man-woman marriage is, among other things, the optimal and most effective means of (1) bearing children; (2) raising children and providing for their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual welfare; (3) transforming males into husbands/fathers and females into wives/mothers; (4) bridging the male-female divide; and (5) channeling healthy sexual activity and discouraging unhealthy sexual activity. (5)

It must be stated repeatedly: strong marriages and families are an essential part of strong and healthy economies.

You and your family are part of the solution

A wise man has said: “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” By the same token, we directly and severely limit our success as individuals and as nations when we neglect the home and don’t see its success as a key to our prosperity!

The loss of human capital that occurs from family breakdown stunts economies in so many ways, but most tragic is the human misery we inflict upon ourselves and upon our children.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Prepare for marriage or work at making your own marriage successful.
2. Have children and put their growth into happy, productive citizens at the center of your busy lives.
3. Recognize that no marriage or family is perfect, but strive to create and model a healthy and successful family.
4. Get educated and speak up. Family capital is a very real thing. Share the message of not only the social and religious importance of marriage and family, but make people aware of the fiscal impact of strong families.
5. If you are just promoting conservative fiscal public policy and not emphasizing the importance of the social issues, then you are missing an important part of the solution.
6. At every opportunity, advocate for traditional marriage and mother-father families. As always we at United Families International welcome and need your support as we strive to do the same.

Finally, stand up for marriage and for free speech on Wednesday, August 1.

By now you may be aware of the incredible intolerance being shown to the fast food business Chick-Fil-A, particularly by the mayors of Boston and Chicago who are threatening to keep Chick-Fil-A from doing business in their cities. Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy supports traditional marriage, so gay advocates and activists have been lining up to castigate and attempt to ruin his business. However Cathy has been undeterred in standing up for man-woman marriage.

Here is your chance to acknowledge and thank Chick-Fil-A for their courage. Be part of a nationwide effort; and on August 1, stop by your local Chick-Fil-A business. You don’t need to bring a sign or make a scene – just purchase something, big or small, or at least walk up to the counter and tell them “thank you.” This will send a message that citizens won’t tolerate this kind of bullying and that the vast majority of people in the U.S. understand the importance of man-woman marriage.

Young people who “get it”

This week we share two different pieces written by college students; one on the topic of divorce which is cleverly titled “No-thought” Divorce and the other on the mistaken belief that cohabitation is a good idea for trial testing marriage.

UFI is pleased to showcase these young adults’ writing and research. In a time when the “twenty-something” age group is not the most avid promoters of marriage and traditional values, it is amazing and gratifying to know that there are young people who “get it.” Thanks to each of the writers and you can see their articles below.

Carol Soelberg

President, United Families International

The Pitfalls of Cohabitation

The number of U.S. opposite-sex couples cohabiting went from one-half million in 1970 to 7.5 million by the year 2010. The year 2010, alone, saw a 13 percent increase in the cohabitation rate. Currently, 60 percent of all people will have cohabited before marriage and of that 60 percent; only 30 percent will ever end up actually marrying. Now here’s the clincher, those who do marry are subject to an 80 percent increase in their divorce rate compared to those who have never cohabited. Read more

“No Thought” Divorce

To young couples, divorce serves as a deterrent for marriage. The potential for divorce is frightening couples away from making and keeping marriage commitments. For the 2,077,000 marriages in the United States, divorce is becoming a more prevalent and acceptable option as a way to escape what they deem to be an unsatisfying relationship. Read more


(1) Isabel Sawhill, from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution (Daniel P. Moynihan, “A Dahrendorf Inversion and the Twilight of the Family: The Challenge of the Conference,” in Daniel P. Moynihan, Timothy M. Smeeding and Lee Rainwater, eds., The Future of the Family, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004), p.xxi.)

(2) Rose Kreider, “Living Arrangements of Children: 2004,” Current Populations Reports, (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008), table 2, page 6.

(3) Janet Wilmoth and Gregor Koso, “Does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and Wealth Outcomes Among Preretirement Adults,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (2002): 254-268.

(4) David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Couples Need to Know about Cohabitation Before Marriage,” National Marriage Project, (1999).

(5) Monte Neil Stewart, Marriage Facts, 31 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 313 (2008).

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