By Sheila Weber
Published February 10, 2016
The week leading up to Valentine’s Day is an ideal time for more conversation about the other marriage issues of the day--the ones that get short shrift in current political debate.
What about remedies for the serious decline of marriage rates? What about an honest look at the new social norm where more than half of American babies born to women under age 30 now occur outside of marriage? Let that sink in a bit. In 1960, even prior to Roe v. Wade, less than 5 percent of U.S. babies were born outside of wedlock.
The one tool that decreases the probability of child and family poverty by 82 percent iis not a government program. Statistically, it’s marriage.
Why does this matter?
Candidates of both political parties can agree on some basic premises -- that marriage is one key solution, among others, to poverty. Research shows that married persons build greater financial security than single men and women; and children raised with both parents perform better academically and have less addiction, less teen pregnancy, and less trouble with the law.
Of course, single mothers are to be applauded for their sacrifices. From the ones I know, most do wish they had the constant support of a responsible husband/father.
So do we do anything? Or just quietly accept a new social norm? Isn’t it worth our effort to give children better chances and to help our citizens find more success and stability in their home lives? Especially since almost everyone has aspirations for lifelong lasting love?
British iPrime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech called Life Chances, where he made the case that the role of government first is to provide security and safety for its citizens -- and that helping people out of poverty is part of that call.
Cameron said we need to break free from old thinking about poverty--to “move beyond the economics—we need a more social approach.”
His ideas included: improving family bonds with shared parental leave, a tax code that rewards marriage, widen opportunities for free marital counseling, speed up adoption processes, create a voucher program for parenting classes, character/relationship education programs in schools, to reaffirm respect for religious traditions, and rebuild social trust.
So rather than throw up our hands, what can we do?
Here are four recommendations made this month in a joint research project by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies Center (truncated below):
1. End the marriage penalty in means-tested welfare programs. A single or cohabiting mother is less likely to marry if she will lose social benefits. One way to remove this barrier to marriage is to allow low-income married families with children under six to have their split income considered in applications for programs like Medicaid and food stamps.
2. Strengthen vocational education and apprenticeships as a means of boosting earning capacities for low income families. This would help young people forge more stable marriages which create greater economic stability and more promise for children.
3. Give couples a second chance. Research shows that one-third of married couples exploring divorce are open to reconciliation. Academic and family court leaders have suggested that states 1) extend the waiting period for divorce, 2) provide high quality education about the option of reconciliation, and 3) provide a university-based education (online) to couples at risk of divorce.
4. Launch civic efforts to strengthen marriage. Campaigns against smoking and teenage pregnancy have been effective. Likewise a civic campaign around what Brookings Institution scholars call the “Success Sequence” could help—encourage young adults to pursue education, work, marriage and parenthood in that order.
A U.S. civic campaign to promote the benefits of marriage, and a “Success Sequence” for young Americans, is sorely needed if we are going to encourage a turnaround from the new social trends of long term cohabitation and out-of-wedlock child bearing.
Why?So that children will have more stability and modeling to create their own next generation of families, the cornerstone of a strong citizenry.
Sheila Weber is the executive director of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7-14).