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The Truth about Marriage and Poverty


February 7 through 14 is National Marriage Week—“a collaborative campaign to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture, which in turn helps curtail poverty and benefits children.”

Count me in! And I hope you and your church will take part as well.

Longtime BreakPoint listeners have heard a great deal about the personal benefits of marriage in terms of health and happiness. And of course, children do better by nearly every measure in intact families.

But marriage’s benefits go beyond the personal—society itself benefits from strong marriages. Especially in the economic area.

We've heard a great deal lately about the growing economic divide and economic inequality. What we don’t hear enough about is the role that family formation—or more to the point, the lack of family formation—plays in this divide. The Brookings Institution, a moderate-to-liberal Washington think tank, has estimated that poverty rates would be 25 percent lower if marriage rates were the same today as they were in 1970!

Sadly, they’re not. In 1970, 84 percent of all U.S.-born 30-to-44-year olds were married. Today the percentage is below 60 percent. According to Bowling Green State University, “Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent.”

What’s even worse is that the decline of marriage has been most pronounced amongst the most vulnerable segments of the population: the less-affluent and least-well-educated. This vulnerability was the subject of a recent article at the Atlantic Monthly’s website. The title of the article says it all: “Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, But Poor Women Can’t.”

As the author, Emma Green, wrote, “For a poor woman, deciding whether to get married or not will be a big part of shaping her economic future.”

Indeed, especially if children are involved. As National Marriage Week USA Executive Director, my friendSheila Weber wrote for Fox News, there is a “2 percent chance of poverty if you finish high school, work full time, and postpone marriage and childbearing until age 21.  If you don’t do these three things, there is a 77 percent chance of poverty.”

Thus, while for more affluent women, “deciding whether to get married is a choice about independence, [and] lifestyle,” for poorer women, it’s a choice that goes a long way toward their and their children’s future.

To be clear, marriage isn’t a “silver bullet.” It’s not a cure-all for poverty. But it’s an important weapon in our battle against poverty and even inequality: as a 2012 Heritage Foundation study put it, “The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high-school diploma or less."

None of this is debatable—the social science data on the link between marriage and poverty is overwhelming. It’s just inconvenient for those who are wed—pun intended—to a narrative that values independence and freedom. Not coincidentally, these folks also belong to the class that is least affected by the decline of marriage.

As Christians, we're called to love our neighbor and to pray for the welfare of our communities. For the benefit of all, we need to get the truth about marriage out. And that’s why National Marriage Week is so important.

There’s still time to get your church involved. Please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary and we’ll link you to National Marriage Week USA.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: January 24, 2014

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