National Marriage Week (February 7–14) is drawing attention to the link between the collapse of marriage and child poverty—and its cost to America.
The statistics are sobering:
- In recent years, the percentage of intact households has been in steady decline. Nearly 80 percent of all adults were married in 1980. Today, that number has fallen to 52 percent. Combine that with the fact that 41 percent of children in America are born outside of marriage. The number tragically climbs to 71 percent in the African American community.
- The collapse of marriage correlates strongly with child poverty. Parents who forgo marriage increase the likelihood that their children will experience some aspect of poverty. A child raised outside of marriage is six times more likely to experience poverty than a child who grows up in an intact family, and 71 percent of poor families with children are headed by single parents. By contrast, 73 percent of all non-poor families with children are headed by married couples.
- The collapse of marriage costs taxpayers. Three-quarters of all means-tested welfare benefits is distributed to single-parent households. In 2011, the government spent $330 billion on assistance to single-parent households.
Americans deserve to know the facts about marriage as an antidote to child poverty. That’s especially true of at-risk youth. How many times does a young person hear that she should stay in school, wear her seatbelt, and not smoke? Will she ever hear that marriage is important to her and her children’s welfare? Do taxpayers realize the significance of marriage for alleviating child poverty—or do they only hear messages about how much more we need to spend on welfare programs? That’s what National Marriage Week aims to change.
Policy can send important messages about the importance of marriage, but it doesn’t play the most important role. Parents should personally communicate to their children the social and personal costs of unwed parenting—from economic hardships that can occur to the difficulty of raising a child alone.
The path to prosperity requires a robust marriage culture—it matters for both individuals and for America.