Jim Daly Christian Blog and Commentary

Marriage Still the Best Hope to Combat Poverty

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2014 Jan 20

Focus on the Family has long promoted an important truth: men, women and children do better when they are part of a family knit together by marriage. There’s a mountain of research that helps prove this claim, showing that marriage does more than any other single factor to protect families against poverty and financial hardships.

Well, new research is seemingly debunking this assertion. Last week, NBC News ran a provocatively-titled article, “Marriage may not be the silver bullet for poverty, study says.” It cites a study suggesting marriage is an “ineffective weapon in the War on Poverty.” Meanwhile, the article also quotes the professor who wrote the paper, Dr. Kristi William. She thinks policymakers might get “more bang for their buck” if they divert money away from programs meant to encourage healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood to those aimed at reducing unintended pregnancies and subsidizing child care for young children.

We’re obviously looking at two very different viewpoints.

To understand the many nuances in the study I turned to our resident family expert, author Glenn Stanton. You may be familiar with his work – he’s been interviewed countless times by national media outlets, regularly speaks at universities and forums around the world and shares his learnings on our Focus Findings website.

I want to share two observations Glenn made in his analysis.

1. The article overstates the pro-marriage case. 
Marriage advocates have never said marriage was an automatic cure-all for society’s ills. Complicated matters such as poverty rarely have a singular root cause; oftentimes, there are multiple factors that must be addressed.

2. The study tackles an argument we never made.
We’ve never said marriage would lift a single mom and her child out of poverty – especially if it’s to a man who is not the child’s father.

Focus on the Family’s position has always been that marriage helps prevent poverty. In other words, marriage works best for families when it happens after a couple has completed their education and before they have children together.

There’s another great response to the flawed research I want to share with you. It’s from the blog of the Institute for Family Studies and it’s written by our friend, Dr. Brad Wilcox. It’s related to the public policy implications of the issue:

While it is true that most of the federally funded programs designed to strengthen relationships among low-income couples with children have not achieved success, this is a common pattern for new policy initiatives (most of these programs are just a few years old). It usually takes some time for policymakers to figure out the best strategy to address a critical public policy challenge …

… federal, state, and local governments should continue to experiment with a range of policy solutions to bridge the growing marriage divide between the rich and the poor in America.

Wilcox then goes on to highlight a few successful policy programs marriage proponents can build on to help more Americans enjoy a stable family life.

We need to give marriage-affirming policy solutions more time. After all, doesn’t it just make intuitive sense that a married mother and father will be the most invested in their child’s future? That, together, they are the two people most willing to sacrifice and work towards their shared goal of giving their children the best shot at a successful life?

First and foremost, marriage works because it’s God’s idea. Let’s give it the support it needs to do what God designed it to do: provide the best environment for children to develop into stable adults and good citizens.

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