America's Greatest Child Poverty Weapon
Special Report - October 4, 2010
The “principal cause” of child poverty in America today is the decline of marriage and specifically absentee dads, according to a new report from The Heritage Foundation released this month. The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder entitled, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” was written by Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in the Domestic Policy Studies Department, and released on September 16. “Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home,” Rector writes. “Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline.”
Rector points out that the poverty rate for single parents (in 2008) was 36.5 percent, compared to only 6.4 percent for married couples with children. According to his analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, being born into a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 80 percent. While he notes that the difference in poverty rates is partly due to the fact that single parents tend to have less education than married parents, he shows that even when differences in parental education are taken into account, the poverty rate among married couple families is “still 75 percent lower” than the rate among single parent families. “In fact, being married has the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent’s level of education has,” Rector adds.
According to Rector, the rise in child poverty in the United States is linked to increasing rates of single parenthood (by choice or as a result of divorce), especially among lower income communities. He notes that 71 percent of poor families with children are single-parent families, compared to 28 percent of married-couple families. Additionally, marriage reduces poverty among all racial and ethnic groups.
The decline in marriage, especially among lower income communities, is creating a “two-caste” system in America, Rector argues. “The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line,” he writes. “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 degree or less.”
He suggests a number of ways for government to communicate a “pro-marriage” message to low-income communities, including:
- Public advertising campaigns on the importance of marriage.
- Government-funded marriage education programs in high schools.
- Strengthening abstinence education programs in public schools as the best means of avoiding unwed pregnancy and achieving a lifelong marriage.
- Reducing the anti-marriage penalties in welfare programs.
“As long as the current social silence concerning the benefits of marriage and the harm of out-of-wedlock childbearing persists, marriage will continue to erode in low-income communities,” Rector concludes. “To combat poverty, it is vital to strengthen marriage; and to strengthen marriage, it is vital that at-risk populations be given a clear factual understanding of the benefits of marriage and the costs and consequences of non-marital childbearing.”
Tracking the Importance of Family and Faith - FNC - Spring 2010
The Effect of the Family on Social Ills - FNC - May/June 2009
Costs of Father Absence - October 21, 2008
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