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 here.
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)
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.