March 27, 2001 | News Releases on Taxes
WASHINGTON, Mar. 27, 2001-Through one relatively inexpensive step, government can reduce crime, violence, drug abuse, child abuse and out-of-wedlock births, a new Heritage Foundation paper says. It also can help the next generation earn more, learn more and stay in school longer.
This seemingly magical step? Promoting the institution of marriage, especially among the poor, writes Patrick Fagan, Heritage's FitzGerald fellow in family and cultural issues.
An overwhelming amount of social science research shows that children who grow up in intact, two-parent families enjoy numerous advantages over those who don't, says Fagan, a former family counselor. Typically, the former are healthier, are more likely to graduate, are better off financially, and are far less likely to engage in crime and other destructive behaviors.
Which is why, Fagan says, at least some government funds that go toward alleviating poverty should be devoted to fighting one of its central causes-the breakdown of marriage and the two-parent family.
Fagan suggests public and private organizations join forces to undertake a variety of community-based programs that help couples stay married and encourage young women to avoid out-of-wedlock births. A number of programs, including Marriage Savers, Best Friends and Community Marriage Covenants, have proven track records, he says.
"It cannot be overstated that the common good rests massively on the stability of family life, which is premised on the stability of marriage," says Fagan. "To the extent that marriage breaks down, public order decreases, public costs increase, and the need for government controls to contain the resulting chaos increases."
Some states have begun making progress on the issue, Fagan notes. In June 1999, Oklahoma convened the nation's first statewide conference on marriage and emerged with a goal to reduce divorce by 33 percent by 2010. It also had a plan for how to do it-financed, in part, by surplus money the state received from the federal government through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Since then, Oklahoma has made welfare regulations more marriage-friendly, begun pro-marriage public ad campaigns aimed separately at children and adults, and extended funding and other assistance to faith-, community- and government-based programs designed to strengthen marriage and support families.
Arizona, meanwhile, authorized $1 million to develop community-based marriage courses. Arkansas has set a goal to cut its divorce rate in half by 2010, and its governor has urged counties to use TANF funds to help. Florida offers discounts on marriage licenses to those who take marriage-prep courses. Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico and Utah have conducted marriage summits similar to Oklahoma's.
And the Louisiana legislature touched off a national debate in 1997 when it legalized covenant marriages, which require a two-year waiting period before a divorce is granted. It also eliminated so-called "no-fault" divorce, which wound up making it too easy to get a divorce, Fagan says.
Fagan says an energized research community has generated increasingly effective methods to preserve troubled marriages and prevent those unlikely to work. He also says that, thanks to excess TANF funding, money shouldn't be a concern.
Other methods are available to further encourage healthy families, he says: waiting periods for marriage licenses, rewards to counties that help lower rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, and tax-based rewards for marriage stability.
"But mostly, it's up to states to realize just how much divorce is costing them-and to decide what they're going to do about it," he says.