Can marriage reduce poverty? Marriage rates among the poor have dramatically declined since the '60s
This is another way of saying that expectations about how life should be before marriage prevent people from actually getting married. They may not have enough money for a down payment on a house, or the funds to pay for a wedding celebration. This is certainly part of what holds Negrra and Moore back.
Another possibility is that disadvantaged women want to get married but have difficulty finding suitable partners. "It is easy to spin a hypothetical scenario in which marrying off single mothers to an average male would raise family incomes and reduce poverty," wrote Stephanie Coontz in a discussion paper for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit think tank based at the University of Miami. But unmarried males in impoverished neighborhoods are not average, according to Coontz.
Researchers from the Center for Research on Child Well-Being at Princeton University reported that results from the Fragile Families Survey show unmarried fathers were twice as likely as married ones to have a physical or psychological problem that interfered with their ability to find or keep a job, and several times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. More than 25 percent of unmarried fathers were not employed when their child was born, compared to fewer than 10 percent of married fathers.
Another factor contributing to the decline of marriage in this group is the rise of women's earnings relative to those of men. As women's wages increase, fewer rely on their spouse to support them, according to Cherlin at Johns Hopkins. Data released by the Pew Research Center suggest that the number of women who out-earn their husbands is rapidly growing.
The higher earning capacity of women and the declining prospects for young men without college degrees are key factors contributing to the decline in marriage in recent years, said Cherlin. Moreover, the recession has exacerbated this trend because it has disproportionately impacted unskilled male workers.
Caplan posits a controversial explanation derived from behavioral economics. "Some people are impulsive and short-sighted," he said. "If you're one of them, you tend to mess up your life in every way," he said. People who lack impulse control are less likely to invest in their careers or relationships, according to Caplan. "They put short-term desires first, which hurts their long-term prospects," he said.
Of people in this situation, Caplan said, "You refuse to swallow your pride — to admit that the best job and the best spouse you can get, though far from ideal, are much better than nothing. Your behavior feels good at the time. But in the long run people see you for what you are, and you end up poor and alone."
Though complex issues make many low-income couples hesitant to tie the knot, smart policy and programs that directly address the things holding these couples back will increase their rates of marriage, according to Theodora Ooms, a policy analyst at the Center on Law and Social Policy.
Fiscal incentives, according to Ooms, can be particularly effective among those who feel they cannot afford to get married. Removing the marriage penalty from the tax code may alleviate some of the pressure that working-class couples feel. States may also consider revising their eligibility rules for welfare, said Ooms. Currently most states offer less social assistance to two-parent families and penalize those who marry.
In an effort to promote marriage and the financial well-being of its residents, West Virginia recently changed its welfare benefit structure so married couples receive a 10-percent higher monthly allowance than single parents.
Another way to address the economic barriers to marriage would be to offer welfare fathers job training and employment assistance on the same basis as agencies offer this assistance to welfare mothers, suggested Ooms.
Governments can also signal the importance of marriage by creating public education programs that outline the benefits of legal union for families. For example, the Virginia Health Department is using state funds for a public education program designed to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancy among women 20-29 and to promote the message that marriage is the right place for a child to be born. The Florida Bar Association developed a marriage handbook which is given to all couples who apply for a marriage license in the state.
Many marriage advocates believe that information and education about marriage should be as widely available as information and education on parenting. Successful initiatives might include high school courses on developing relationship skills, marriage workshops for young couples and intensive therapy weekends for those in troubled marriages.
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