Marriage: "Strong families, prosperous states"

Confirming God's design for marriage:
Strong families, prosperous states: Do healthy families affect the wealth of states?
visited 2016-12-1

Economics has its roots in the Greek word oikonomia, which means the “management of the household.” Yet economists across the ideological spectrum have paid little attention to the links between household family structure and the macroeconomic outcomes of nations, states, and societies. This is a major oversight because, as this report shows, shifts in marriage and family structure are important factors in states’ economic performance, including their economic growth, economic mobility, child poverty, and median family income...

Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with more economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States...

The share of parents in a state who are married is one of the top predictors of the economic outcomes studied in this report...

Violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents, even after controlling for a range of socio-demographic factors at the state level...

Given the importance of strong families for the economy, we propose four policy ideas to strengthen the economic and cultural foundations of marriage and family life in states across the country:

End the marriage penalty in means-tested welfare programs

Today, a large number of low-income couples with children face substantial penalties for marrying. That is, because various social benefits (food stamps, housing assistance, child care subsidies, and welfare payments) decline as income rises, a single or cohabiting mother is more likely to receive benefits if she remains unmarried rather than marry a partner who is earning a steady income. As the marriage penalty rises, the likelihood of marriage appears to decline. Federal and state policymakers must move to end or minimize these penalties. One way to do so is to allow low-income married families with children under six to split their income and have that split income be considered in applications for programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

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. This economic reality can be remedied, in part, by scaling up vocational education and apprenticeship programs. By raising the skills, earnings, maturity, and self-confidence of young men and women who are not on the college track, such programs would help more young people forge strong and stable marriages. We endorse the recent grants for apprenticeship provided by the Obama administration, the tax credits for apprenticeship proposed in the LEAP Act cosponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), and efforts to increase work-based learning programs in high schools like Career Academies. In addition, we urge states to develop effective approaches to marketing apprenticeships to employers, similar to those recently enacted in South Carolina.

Give couples a second chance

Research suggests that in about one-third of couples exploring divorce, one or both spouses express interest in the possibility of reconciliation. In light of this finding, we follow University of Minnesota Professor of Family Science William J. Doherty and retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears in calling on states to consider three steps to reduce unnecessary divorce: extend the divorce waiting period to one year in cases where abuse, abandonment, and substance abuse are not applicable; provide high-quality education about the option of reconciliation for those couples who wish to learn more; and create university-based centers of excellence to improve the education available to couples at risk of divorce. The work of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, which develops and evaluates best practices for helping struggling couples to renew their marriages, is particularly noteworthy here.

Launch civic efforts to strengthen marriage

In the realm of civil society, national, state, and local initiatives to provide relationship education and social marketing on behalf of marriage could prove helpful. Campaigns against smoking and teenage pregnancy have taught us that sustained efforts to change behavior can work. We would like to see a civic campaign organized around
what Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill have called the “success sequence,” where young adults are encouraged to pursue education, work, marriage, and parenthood in that order. A campaign organized around this sequence—and receiving widespread support from a range of educational, media, pop cultural, business, and civic institutions—might meet with the same level of success as has the nation’s recent campaign to prevent teen pregnancy, a campaign which has helped drive down the teen pregnancy rate by more than 50 percent since the 1990s.

* Report attached for personal archival only.