October 22, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Brad Wilcox is at it again, and that’s a good thing. This article is about research done by Wilcox that connects family structure and the economy (Washington Post, 10/20/15). I might be tempted to point out that we’ve always known the importance of family stability to social stability and that the economy is likely to be tied to both. But, as with so much these days, it seems we have to relearn basic concepts that bygone generations have taken for granted. This is progress?
What Wilcox has found is that the states with the highest marriage rates also tend strongly to be the ones with the highest per capita earnings. That’s significant, but doubters argue that we can’t tell whether the states have better economies because of marriage or they have more stable marriages because of their robust economies. But actually we know that, while each contributes to the other, marriage drives economic productivity.
That’s overwhelmingly because married men, particularly those with children, are far more likely to be employed than their unmarried counterparts. Of course they’re also far more likely to stay away from drugs, alcohol and crime. All of that is good for economies. The article, to its credit, says exactly that.
According to new research, states with a high concentration of married couples experience faster economic growth, less child poverty and more economic mobility than states where fewer adults are married, even after controlling for a variety of economic and demographic factors. The study, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, also finds that the share of parents who are married in a state is a better predictor of that state's economic health than the racial composition and educational attainment of the state's residents…
“There’s a reciprocal tie between strong families and strong economies," said W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist with ties to AEI and the Institute for Family Studies, who was the lead author on the report. "That tie goes in both directions. There’s a connection between what goes on in the home and what’s happening in the larger marketplace.”
What might be behind those links? The researchers suggest it's the effects of marriage on men — particularly younger, lower-educated men. They believe getting married and becoming a father motivate those men to work more hours, bargain for more money and make better strategic decisions — such as drinking less and not quitting a job before another one is lined up — to improve their earning power.
Again, this is not news. But any oar in the water that pulls against the tide of anti-marriage is welcome. From the late 1960s we’ve been told that marriage is a trap for women to be avoided if at all possible. That, plus no-fault divorce has sent divorce rates into the stratosphere with a couple of generations of fatherless children rendered hors de combat.
Married men, particularly those with children, increase their workforce participation. According to figures from the American Enterprise Institute and Wilcox’s Institute for Family Studies, a whopping 94% of married men with children are part of the labor force, while only 81% of unmarried men without children are.
The opposite dynamic is at work for women whose labor force participation drops as children come into their lives. That of course is no surprise. Time and again we see women taking time out of their occupations to care for their children. It’s biology at work and again a phenomenon that would have been taken for granted as recently as 50 years ago.
But since then, we’ve been fed a steady and unwholesome diet of pretense that women are as motivated to have careers as (a) men and (b) they are caring for children. Neither is true and women prove it every day by the choices they make. Plus, survey after survey finds that, even though women already work less at paid work than do men, they’d prefer to work still less than they do. Still, our cultural narrative doggedly asks us to believe that women’s underrepresentation in the workplace and workforce is in some way a function of anti-female animus on somebody’s part. It’s not.
Back to Wilcox’s study.
His new report, co-authored by Robert I. Lerman and Joseph Price, finds large differences between states with relatively high and low levels of adults who are married with children. Being in the top 20 percent of those states, as opposed to the bottom 20 percent, correlates to having a state economy that is $1,451 larger per person, with a median family income that is $3,654 higher. It also correlates to a 10.5 percent improvement in the chances that a child of a low-income family will climb the economic ladder as an adult, and with a 13.2 percent decline in the child poverty rate.
The analysis controls for a variety of factors that might have the effect of making the marriage-economy link look stronger. Those include state tax rates and infrastructure spending, educational levels, race, age and violent crime.
The report drew praise from Elisabeth Jacobs, senior director for policy and academic programs at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, an inequality-focused think tank. "Economic insecurity and wage stagnation for the bottom 90 percent of Americans are undoubtedly contributing to family instability," she said. "A growing body of research, including the new study from Dr. Wilcox and his colleagues, supports the idea that policymakers need to view economic stability and family stability as part of a feedback loop."
Yes, policymakers might indeed want to do something to increase marriage stability, given the fact that the economy would be more robust if they did. So what do they recommend?
Some candidates for president already talk about the links between marriage and mobility on the stump, including Republicans Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Wilcox and his fellow researchers suggest that policymakers should pursue a multi-pronged agenda to promote marriage, as an economic strategy.
Their ideas include eliminating so-called "marriage penalties" in federal aid programs that cut off benefits once married couples begin to earn a certain amount of combined income. They worry that by counting incomes jointly, the government is discouraging lower-income workers to shun marriage for fear of losing assistance.
They also propose strengthening vocational education, to boost " skills, earnings, maturity and self-confidence of young men and women" in order to make them better candidates for marriage; efforts to reduce divorce rates, in part by requiring most couples to wait at least a year before divorcing; and launching a national public-service campaign to promote marriage among young people.
Ridiculous. Offering those ideas as the solution to the marriage problem is like slapping a band aid on a femoral artery wound. Actually, it’s worse.
The problem is the divorce industry backed by family law. The divorce industry offers, in many cases, hefty financial incentives, particularly to mothers, to break up their families, or not form them in the first place. From researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen, we know that it’s women who file 70% of the divorce actions in this country. We also know why. Women know to virtual certainty that, if they divorce their husband, they won’t lose their children. On the contrary, they’ll have them very nearly as much as they did during marriage.
And along with the children comes child support that’s specifically designed to ensure that the children – and therefore their mother – experience no drop in their living standards post-divorce. Then there’s alimony that can support a woman for years, decades or even the rest of her life without her lifting a finger. And of course all that comes with the accolades heaped on single mothers from the press, popular culture and many of those same policy-makers who want us to believe that they support strong families.
We know the facts. Before our 50-year bout of blindness to them, we well understood the importance of families and family stability both to social cohesion and economic well-being. During those 50 years, we’ve done incalculable injury to our society and our economy is suffering too. We also know the facts about the divorce industry and how it destroys the very families every society needs to stay afloat. The policy implications are obvious and they have little to do with the tax structure.
To fix the marriage problem, we have to fix family courts. Until we take on that job seriously and for the long term, we’re just playing games.
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