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Marriage Can Help to Combat Poverty

Beside the pensions crises there is another little propagated factor that has an effect on the economy much more than one could anticipate. While scientists are arguing over the factors that might have caused the development of monogamous societies, a number of reliable studies and objective statistics pin point the overall damaging effects of out-of-wedlock childbearing. Children poverty is one of them. It is one of the biggest concerns in America, but very few are aware that its principal cause is an absence of married fathers in families. The survey data and statistics by U.S. Census Bureau¹ and The Fragile Families² are striking and self-explanatory:

  • Single-parent families make up the overwhelming 71% of all poor families with children in the U.S.
  • The poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 % in comparison to 6.8% of married couples with children.
  • The poverty rate for single parents is 75% higher than for married couples, even if married and unmarried parents have the same level of education.
  • marriageEven high school dropouts who raise children in marriage, on average, have a significantly lower poverty rate than single parents with a college degree.
  • Marriage drops the odds of being poor by 76% in families with the same level of education.
  • Rising children in marriage has the same effect in reducing poverty as increasing a parent’s level of education by 5 to 6 years.
  • Contrary to popular belief over 60% of fathers who have children outside of marriage earned enough at the time of their child’s birth to support their potential family, even if the mother did not work.
  • Over half (56 %) of unmarried mothers that remain single are bound to be poor for at least 5 years after giving birth. Whereas only 18 % of single mothers who marry the biological fathers of their children would suffer poverty². Therefore, marriage would reduce the expected poverty rate of the children by two-thirds.
  • Generally, being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82%.

The data demonstrates how the decline of marriage generates poverty in future generations and pin point the benefits of marriage from financial point of view.  But the positive effects of having married parents are not limited to income alone. Studies reveal that children raised by married couples have substantially better life outcomes compared to similar children raised in single-parent homes. Emotional and behavioral problems of children that are associated with the higher poverty rates of single mothers are widely known and being addressed. Just as youth is being discouraged from dropping out of school, the value of marriage should be clearly conveyed in society to combat poverty.

single-parent familyAt the meantime, marriage is regrettably declining in America at a fast pace. Since the early 1960s, single-parent families have roughly tripled as a share of all families with children. In 2010, 40.8% of all children born in the U.S. were born outside of marriage. Increasing number of families headed by a single parent puts an enormous pressure on the welfare system. Roughly 75% means-tested welfare for low-income families with children provided by US government, goes to single-parent families. On average, the means-tested welfare costs for single parents with children amount to around $30,000 per household per year.

In conclusion, romantic notions of marriage and family aside, marriage is the powerful weapon in reducing poverty in America and other western societies. In particular, marriage plays a big role in reducing child poverty. However, if the current social trend of ignorance about the subject persists, marriage will continue to decline, particularly in low-income communities. To combat poverty, it is vital to raise awareness of the benefits of marriage and the costs and consequences of non-marital childbearing.


Robert Rector. “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” (2012). The Heritage Foundation.