As Tax Day arrives, families across the country are reluctantly pulling out purses and wallets to cut a hefty check to Uncle Sam. While the annual pain of paying federal income taxes is far from pleasant, married families can take comfort in the fact that they are probably better off financially than their single counterparts.
Even among families with only one working spouse, married households fare far better than those headed by single men and women. On average, a single man will only make two-thirds the annual income of a married family, while a single woman will make two-fifths of that income. Likewise, married households are more likely to own their home and tend to have five times greater asset accumulation than single households.
Marriage holds economic and social benefits well beyond a balance sheet. Children raised in intact, married families tend to have greater academic achievement, fewer behavioral problems, and are at decreased risk of substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Kids who develop good relationships with both mom and dad are also more likely to avoid the host of economic hindrances that often plague children raised in unwed families.
Although the benefits of marriage are numerous, the institution’s promise of security and lifelong commitment seems to be lost on the very people who may need it the most. With four in 10 children born outside of marriage, millions of children are at risk of experiencing the financial and social challenges facing today’s primarily fatherless households. With the unmarried birth rate high among young, undereducated women, single-mother households now comprise more than half of all families living in poverty. Without the relative financial stability marriage can provide, single parents and their children are at greater risk of government dependence. Of the $400 billion spent annually on welfare funding, almost three-quarters goes to single-parent families.
Fortunately, there are ways that community leaders and policymakers can promote the benefits of marriage in low-income communities and help stem the decline of marriage. By ending marriage penalties found in the federal tax code and in many health and welfare programs and by supporting community initiatives that promote the benefits of lifelong, married love, policymakers can help ensure that more families have the chance to experience the economic, social, and personal advantages of marriage.