November 6, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here’s a good article (The Federalist, 11/3/17). It’s by Glenn Stanton and is all about marriage and the countless ways in which marriage benefits married adults, their children and society. The data are essentially all on the side of marriage and against unmarried parenting. Those data have been accumulating for over 40 years and overwhelm any notion that unmarried childbearing is, in the timeless phrase, “just another lifestyle choice.”
Isabel Sawhill, a senior scholar at the center-left Brookings Institute, boldly and correctly proclaimed some years ago that “the proliferation of single-parent households accounts for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since the early 1970s.”…
Professor Bill Galston, President Clinton’s domestic policy advisor and now a senior fellow at Brookings, explained in the early 1990s that an American need only do three things to avoid living in poverty: graduate from high school, marry before having a child, and have that child after age twenty. Only 8 percent of people who do so, he reported, will be poor, while 79 percent who fail to do all three will…
A recent report on this topic focusing on millennials reports that 97 percent of those who follow the success sequence—earn at least a high-school diploma, work, and marry before having children—will not be poor as they enter their 30s. This is largely true for ethnic minorities and those who grew up in poor families.
The overall poverty rate in the United States is about 14%. For single mothers, it’s over 33% and for single fathers it’s about 17%. The point being that poverty visits single parents and their children far more often than it does anyone else and, once there, tends to stay. Living in poverty of course is strongly associated, for children and parents alike, with a wide range of educational, health, emotional and other deficits.
But avoiding poverty isn’t the only reason to marry before having children.
A consistent and irrefutable mountain of research has shown, reaching back to the 1970s and beyond, that marriage strongly boosts every important measure of well-being for children, women, and men. Pick any measure you can imagine: overall physical and mental health, income, savings, employment, educational success, general life contentment and happiness, sexual satisfaction, even recovery from serious disease, healthy diet and exercise. Married people rate markedly and consistently better in each of these, and so many more, compared to their single, divorced, and cohabiting peers. Thus, marriage is an essential active ingredient in improving one’s overall life prospects, regardless of class, race, or educational status.
Why is all this the case?
Marriage generates wealth largely because marriage molds men into producers, providers, and savers. Singleness and cohabiting don’t. Nobel-winning economist George Akerlof, in a prominent lecture more than a decade ago, explained the pro-social and market influence of marriage upon men and fathers: “Married men are more attached to the labor force, they have less substance abuse, they commit less crime, are less likely to become the victims of crime, have better health, and are less accident prone.”
I could go on and on, and the article does. It points out that the marriage benefit in the U.S. exists across all races and ethnicities, promotes children’s well-being, makes society more egalitarian and generally supports everything a government could want in its people.
All of which, of course, raises a very important question: “Why do American law and society so virulently oppose marriage and discourage it at every turn?” Curiously, it’s a question Stanton never mentions or apparently even considers.
If married males are more responsible and productive than their unmarried peers, and they are, why do we teach men in every way that marriage is a danger to their health and welfare? When a man marries, the chances are great that he’ll be the primary wage earner in his new family. That means his toil will mostly pay for the house, the car, the food, medical care and the children’s many needs. But when Ms. Right decides to divorce him, over half of that will go to her.
If they have children, she’ll get them too, irrespective of how good a father he is, how bonded the kids are to him and he to them. Having lost half or more of his assets, he’ll continue to pay the woman who can’t be bothered to give him the time of day. He’ll pay her child support in an amount that may be well in excess of what it takes her to raise the kids. And then there’s alimony. He’ll pay that too, and at a rate based not on what he earns but on what, in the judge’s opinion, he could earn.
Finally, the court that so enthusiastically makes him pay is noticeably hesitant to enforce what meager visitation rights he has. If his ex allows him to see the kids, fine. But if she doesn’t, it’ll likely take him years and money he doesn’t have in lawyers’ fees to convince the judge to finally tell her to abide by the original order.
This all assumes the child he’s raised and is now paying for is even his. If it’s not, it may not change things at all. If his ex had an affair on the side and tagged him with the bill, well, that’s just his tough luck. No law in any jurisdiction requires any woman to tell a man that he has a child. And no law in any jurisdiction punishes her for her fraud. It’s up to him to, in some way, figure it out.
In short, every incentive supplied by public law and policy militates against men marrying. Significant financial ones argue powerfully against it and the shame factor – groveling in court, supporting another man’s child, begging to see little Andy or Jenny – seals the deal. And as surely as those incentives discourage men from marrying, they encourage women to divorce. Make sense?
So yes, marriage is a good thing, for individuals and society generally; there’s no doubt about it. And yet we actively discourage marriage and encourage divorce. There is truly no more dysfunctional policy anywhere about anything. What’s possibly even more remarkable than that though is the blindness of people like Stanton who shout in the wind about the benefits of marriage while ignoring the plain reasons why there’s so little of it.
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