A new chart from Heritage FamilyFacts.org bears good news: Recent marriages are lasting longer. This is great for happily committed couples, and it also represents a boon for civil society because of the social and economic benefits marriage provides.
Commitment to marriage steadily declined from 1960 to the early 1980s, but as the chart highlights, this pattern is starting to reverse. Nearly 75 percent of the women who married for the first time in the early 1990s reached their 10th wedding anniversaries. This is a three-percentage-point increase compared to women who married in the early 1980s.
These numbers are promising for American families given the many personal and social benefits of marriage. For instance, data from FamilyFacts.org shows that marriage is associated with a variety of health benefits for couples, including improved psychological well-being and reduced levels of depression. Children and adolescents raised in married homes are also healthier and better socially adjusted.
Married couples are also better off financially. For instance, the median income for single men is three-fifths of the median income for married families. Single women make two-fifths. Even in cohabitating households, men tend to have lower earnings than married men with families. Overall, the median asset value held by married-couple households is about five times greater than that of households headed by unmarried men and women.
Marriage is healthy for the economy as well, and it can ultimately serve as an antidote to poverty. The financial benefits of marriage are not solely reserved for the man and woman entering matrimony—marriage can have a significant effect on a child’s economic prospects, decreasing the childhood poverty rate by almost 80 percent. Without the relative financial stability marriage provides, single parents and their children are at greater risk of government dependence. Total welfare spending has increased 13-fold since 1964, and $300 billion of the $400 billion spent on means-tested welfare in 2010 went to single-parent families.
Given the many benefits of marriage, policymakers and national leaders should encourage marriage and promote stable family formation. As Heritage Senior Research Fellow Chuck Donovan writes in his Marshall Plan for Marriage, “By maximizing the benefits of family life for the next generation of Americans, it could reduce the costs of family breakdown to taxpayers while fostering personal happiness, independence, and productivity.”
The fact that recent marriages are lasting longer is good news for civil society, and national leaders should encourage a renewed commitment to marriage for the long-term well-being of American society and its citizens.
Mary Frances Boyle is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.