April 16, 2002

April 16, 2002 | News Releases on Family and Marriage

Government Can Cut Child Poverty Rates Through Marriage, Report Finds

WASHINGTON, Apr. 16, 2002-What's the single best thing the federal government can do to cut child poverty rates? According to a new Heritage Foundation paper, it should promote marriage among poor couples with children.

An analysis of government data by Heritage analysts Robert Rector, Kirk Johnson and Patrick Fagan finds that the decline in marriage rates since the 1960s has contributed heavily to the high levels of child poverty recorded over the last three decades. What would happen to child poverty rates, they asked, if marriage levels were restored to their 1960 level?

Using data from the Census Bureau to simulate the effects of higher marriage rates-"matching" a portion of single parents with potential spouses of identical age, race and education level-they found:

  • More than 11 million children-a number that includes about 3 million black children and represents 16.2 percent of all U.S. children-would wind up in married-couple households.
  • Among the children moved into married families, the poverty rate would be cut by 80.4 percent. Living in single-parent homes, some 34.2 percent of these children are poor, they write. If their parents were married to spouses with matching demographic characteristics, only 6.7 percent of these children would remain poor.
  • Restoring marriage to 1960 levels would rescue more than 3 million children from poverty. The U.S. child poverty rate would fall by nearly a third, from 15.7 percent, to 11.2 percent.
  • The child poverty rate among black Americans also would fall if marriage rates went back to their 1960 level, from 27.5 percent to 20.5 percent.

Promoting marriage, though, does more than simply lift children out of poverty, the Heritage analysts found: A growing body of social science research shows that children born or raised in single-parent families are more at risk for a wide range of social maladies, including academic failure, crime, substance abuse, and emotional and behavioral problems.

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