Want to Reduce Poverty? Get Married

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“First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes a baby in a baby carriage.”

This tune sung by thousands of jump-roping little girls as far back as the 1940s is no longer a popular playtime song. Little girls are now growing up with the idea that babies come without marriage. In fact, 33.5 percent of all children born in the United States in 2001 were born out of wedlock.

But children born outside of marriage are seven times more likely to be poor, compared to children raised in intact families which is why President Bush wants to use government funds to promote healthy marriages.

Critics argue that pushing single mothers toward marriage could lead to an increase in domestic violence and that raising wages is a better cure for poverty. Feminists claim the government program would force women to depend on men instead of helping women support their families.

But a new study from the Heritage Foundation found that among non-married mothers romantically involved with the fathers at the time of the child’s birth, marriage would reduce the odds that a mother and child will live in poverty by more than 70 percent.

The study analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study and found that if these mothers do not marry but remain single, approximately 55 percent will be poor. But if the mothers married the father of their child, the poverty rate would plummet to less than 17 percent.

On the issue of domestic violence, 98 percent of the mothers said that the father has never slapped them when angry. Only 12 percent of the mothers reported arguing with the father of their child about a drug or alcohol problem in the last month, and 2.5 percent stated that drugs or alcohol inhibit the father’s ability to maintain a job.

The study showed that 97 percent of these fathers were employed during the prior year and 82 percent were employed at the time of their child’s birth. The median annual income of these fathers was between $15,000 and $20,000, and their median wage rate was $8.55 per hour.

Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the Department of Heath and Human Services, asserts that marriage alone is not an anti-poverty strategy, but marriage coupled with employment is a “very powerful anti-poverty strategy.”

He claims that with a married couple, chances are greater that one parent is working full time. Horn also said that earnings increase among married males compared to cohabiting males because the marriage focuses a man’s attention on taking care of others, which translates into a more consistent work history.

“Cohabitation is a very weak substitute for marriage,” said Horn.

And he’s right.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, poverty among blacks nationwide while still twice as high as whites declined from 26.4 percent in 1996 to 23 percent in 2002. At the same time, black families with incomes of $50,000 or more increased from 21 percent in 1995 to 33 percent in 2001.

Why the decrease in poverty? Marriage.

Nearly half of all black couples are married, up from 46 percent in 1996. The census report showed that while 16 percent of all black families have incomes of $75,000 or more, among married black couples, 27 percent earn at least $75,000 annually.

The poverty rate for black single mothers is 35 percent, compared to only 8 percent for black married couples.

“Marital unions are more stable than cohabitation,” said Bush’s point man on the family. And “marriage is effective for child wellbeing.”

It appears the data prove the President’s point – it is best when baby carriages come after marriage.

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