Encouraging Marriage Helps Everyone

November 5, 2009

Higher marriage rates among the poor would benefit poor adults themselves, their children, and the nation. Although I do not support coercive policies to achieve higher marriage rates, I do favor marriage promotion programs conducted by community-based organizations such as churches and other nonprofit civic groups. The activities these groups should sponsor include counseling, marriage education, job assistance, parenting, anger control, avoiding domestic violence, and money management.

There is no dispute that marriage has declined more among the poor and minorities than among the middle class – and that nonmarital births, now the major cause of single-parent families, are rampant among minority groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children living in single-parent families are about five times as likely to live in poverty. There’s also a high probability they’ll drop out of school, get arrested, be involved in teen pregnancy themselves, have more mental health problems, and be less likely to be employed or in school as young adults. Indeed, parents themselves are physically and psychologically better off when married than single.

Research shows that around 80% of couples who have babies outside marriage say they are in love and most of them believe that there’s a good chance they will get married some day, according to a 2005 report published in Mathematica Policy Research. So if both the children and adults are better off and if the couples say they hope to be married one day, why not help them? As long as the programs are not coercive and are delivered by community-based agencies, what’s the problem? If we can learn how to help couples who want to marry, the payoff to them, their children, and society is potentially enormous.