Our president has made income inequality a major issue in his administration. He wants everyone to help in the fight against poverty.
One of the best ways our church can fight poverty is to work for healthy marriages. Feb. 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. Iowans and others 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 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 Sheila 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.
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.