Married Fathers Deter Poverty
Special Report - June 21, 2010
A new report from The Heritage Foundation discusses the fundamental importance of fathers marrying the mothers of their children as a predictor of a household’s socioeconomic status. “Married Fathers: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” by Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector was released June 16. It charges, “The principal cause of child poverty in the U.S. is the absence of married fathers in the home.” Using data from the U.S. Census, Rector found “the poverty rate in 2008 for single parents with children was 35.6 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.4 percent.” Such numbers show that “being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 80 percent.” However, since the 1960s, the percentage of American children born to married parents has dropped from 93 percent to 59 percent, according to the report. Today, “70 percent of all poor families with children” are single-parent homes. In 2009, “government provided over $300 billion in means-tested welfare aid to single parents.”
The report goes on to reveal, “being married has the same effect in reducing poverty as adding five to six years to a parent’s education level.” Of the 1.7 million children born to unmarried women in 2008, “most of these births occurred to women who will have the hardest time going it alone as parents: young adult women with a high school degree or less. College-educated women rarely have children outside marriage.” Because “nearly all non-married fathers are employed at the time their children are born” with “higher earnings than the mothers … if poor single mothers were married to the actual fathers of their children, two-thirds would immediately be lifted out of poverty.”
Children benefit in a variety of ways from being born and raised in a home with their married biological parents. When compared to children from “intact married families” of “the same race and same parental education,” children from single-parent homes are:
- More than twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime;
- Twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems;
- Roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school; and
- A third more likely to drop out before completing high school.
Additionally, children from broken and single-parent homes are three times as likely to end up in jail by age 30, and 50 percent more likely to experience poverty as adults. Girls from single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to have a child without being married as their counterparts from intact married families.
Rector concludes with suggestions for government action to help stem and reverse the disturbing trend of out-of-wedlock births and single parenthood that overwhelmingly result in a cycle of poverty and more single parenthood. He argues that the government should take the reasonable step of “clarifying the severe shortcomings of the ‘child first, marriage later’ philosophy to potential parents in lower-income communities.” Additional efforts “to reinvigorate marriage in lower-income communities” could include providing “factual information on the role of healthy marriage in reducing poverty and improving child well-being,” explaining “why it is important to develop a stable marital relationship before bringing children into the world,” and teaching “skills for selecting potential life partners and building stable relationships.” Finally, “to reduce poverty in America, policymakers should enact policies that encourage people to form and maintain healthy marriages and delay childbearing until they are married and economically stable.” The report concludes, “marriage is highly beneficial to children, adults, and society. It needs to be encouraged and strengthened, not ignored and undermined.”
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.