Marriage and Our Economy

Marriage and Our Economy

Marriage and Our Economy

The word “economics” comes from the Greek word “oikonomia.” It means “management of the household.” Unfortunately, few people seem to notice the relationship between household family structure and economic outcomes for states or society at-large.

According to a study commissioned by The American Enterprise Institute, shifts in marriage and family structure significantly affect a state’s economy. This includes its economic growth and mobility, child poverty and median family income.

The Strong Families, Prosperous States research documents four key sets of facts about the links between families and the economic welfare of states nationwide.

Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with greater economic growth statewide. Marriage also contributes to more economic mobility, less child poverty and higher median family income in each state.

The share of married parents in a state is a top predictor of the economic outcomes studied in this report. The family factor is generally a stronger predictor of economic mobility, child poverty and median family income. It's actually a stronger indicator than the educational, racial and age compositions of each state.

The state-level link between marriage and economic growth is stronger for younger adults (ages 25–35) than for older ones. This suggests that marriage plays a particularly important role in fostering a positive labor market orientation among young men.

Violent crime is much less common in states with more married-parent families, even after controlling for several socio-demographic factors. The average violent crime rate sits at 343 per 100,000 for states with high numbers of married parents. That's compared to an average rate of 563 per 100,000 for states with low levels of married parents. High crime rates lower the quality of life and real living standards. Crime is also associated with lower levels of economic growth and mobility.

Based on these findings, the study recommends four things:

  • End the marriage penalty in means-tested welfare programs. Many low-income couples with children face substantial penalties for marrying. Various social benefits (food stamps, housing assistance, child care subsidies and welfare payments) decline as income rises, so a single or cohabiting mother is more likely to benefit from not marrying a partner with a steady income.

  • Strengthen vocational education and apprenticeships. One reason marriage is fragile in many poor and working-class communities is that job prospects and income are inadequate, especially for young adults without college degrees. Vocational education and apprenticeship programs can partially remedy this economic reality.

  • Give couples a second chance. Research suggests that in about one-third of couples exploring divorce, one or both spouses are willing to reconcile. States can consider three steps to reduce unnecessary divorce: Extend the divorce waiting period to one year in cases when abuse, abandonment and drugs or alcohol are absent; provide high-quality reconciliation education for interested couples; and create centers of excellence to improve the education opportunities for couples at risk for divorce.

  • Launch civic efforts to strengthen marriage. National, state and local relationship education initiatives and pro-marriage social marketing could be helpful. Campaigns against smoking and teenage pregnancy have taught us that sustained efforts to change behavior can work. Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill promote the “success sequence.” It encourages young adults to pursue education, work, marriage and parenthood - in that order. With widespread support from educational, media, pop cultural, business and civic institutions, this movement might match the success of the nation’s previous teen pregnancy prevention efforts. That campaign has helped reduce the teen pregnancy rate by more than 50 percent since the 1990s.

The economic advantages, this research suggests, don't just persist across the parents’ lifetime. The advantages also transfer across generations with greater economic gains for African-American families and families with less formal education.

To read the entire report, go to: https://www.aei.org/publication/for-richer-for-poorer-how-family-structures-economic-success-in-america/.