Does Marriage Matter?


Does marriage matter? With the debate swirling around the decline of the middle class, the inability to move a percentage of those below poverty downward and the future of the family structure; the question that needs to be asked is, does marriage matter?

From an economic point of view, there is no doubt that marriage does matter. Thirty-five percent of black families headed by single females live in poverty compared to 7% of black families, and 38% of Hispanic single female heads of households live in poverty compared to 12% of married Hispanic couples. Living in a single parent home increases the chances of children living in poverty and receiving government assistance.

Marriage is a significant factor in poverty and as Heritage Foundation Researcher Robert Rector noted, “Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon. As husbands disappear from the home, poverty, and welfare dependence will increase. Children and parents will suffer as result.” Family structure plays a factor in combatting poverty and the evidence shows decline in family formation plays a role in the number of minorities in poverty. In 1930, only 6.3% children were born out of wedlock but today that number has risen to 40%. Thirty-six percent of single parents live in poverty compared to 6.3% of married couples. Only one out of four families with children are poor when contrasted to nearly 71% of families headed by single parents, showing that family formation is a significant factor in poverty. While many blame teen pregnancy for the increase in single parents, three out of five unwed children are born to women 20-29. Education plays a significant role in unwed mothers as the least educated women are more likely to have children out of wedlock. Sixty-seven percent of women without a high school degree have children without marriage whereas mothers with college degrees or higher have a 8.3% chance of children out of wedlock.

Education is a factor in whether a woman will have a child out of wedlock, but regardless of education, married women are less likely to live in poverty. Only 15% of women who are married and without a high school diploma live in poverty, whereas 47% of single female head of household dropouts live in poverty. Thirty-one percent of single female head of households with high school diplomas live in poverty compared to only 5% of married families and 24% of single female head of households with some college degree live in poverty compared to only 3.2% married women who live in poverty. Nearly 9% of women with college degrees or higher live in poverty compared to 1.5% of married families with college degree or higher.

Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with family formation; the hardest hits are minority women and children. “The gag rule about marriage is nothing new," Rector writes in his Heritage Foundation report. "At the beginning of the War on Poverty, a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan (later Ambassador to the United Nations and Senator from New York), serving in the Administration of President Lyndon Johnson, wrote a seminal report on the negative effects of declining marriage among blacks. The Left exploded, excoriating Moynihan and insisting that the erosion of marriage was either unimportant or benign. ...Four decades later, Moynihan’s predictions have been vindicated. The erosion of marriage has spread to whites and Hispanics with devastating results. But the taboo on discussing the link between poverty and the disappearance of husbands remains as firm as it was four decades ago.”

Marriage is the key to eliminating poverty because it causes husbands to earn more for the family. As Kay Hymowitz pointed out, "Marriage itself, it seems, encourages male productivity. One study by Donna Ginther and Madeline Zavodny examined men who’d had 'shotgun' marriages and thus probably hadn’t been planning to tie the knot. The shotgun husbands nevertheless earned more than their single peers did."

We can conclude that there are many factors as to why people live in poverty, but one significant factor is marriage. Married parents are less likely regardless of education level to live in poverty compared to single head of households and family structure matters as part of an anti-poverty strategy.

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