WASHINGTON, AUGUST 6, 2002-A war is on against President Bush's proposal to spend $300 million of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to promote healthy marriages among men and women at risk of out-of-wedlock childbearing.
The Legal Defense Fund of the National Organization for Women (NOW) says efforts to build sound marriages "waste taxpayer dollars." Feminist scholar Stephanie Coontz says marriage promotion should not be "a significant component of anti-poverty policy." And left-wing columnist Julianne Malveaux says, "Arming poor women with education is a certain prescription for poverty prevention; marriage is, at best, a risky bet."
But a new study from The Heritage Foundation clearly indicates that sound marriages do far more to lift children out of poverty than educational attainment of the mother and that President Bush is right to emphasize marriage in his welfare-reform proposal.
In fact, according to the study by welfare reform expert Robert Rector of Heritage and Kirk Johnson, formerly of Heritage's Center for Data Analysis, children raised by never-married mothers are nine times more likely to live in poverty than children raised by two parents in an intact marriage. Nearly 80 percent of long-term child poverty occurs in broken homes or homes in which their parents never married, the study found.
Although maternal education does have a role in reducing child poverty, it is not nearly as effective as marriage. Children raised in intact married families whose mothers are high-school dropouts spend as much time in poverty, on average, as children raised by never-married mothers with a college degree. Even growing up in a household where the parents divorce halfway through childhood does as much to keep children out of poverty as adding four years to a mother's education, the analysts say.
"While both marriage and maternal education play a positive role in alleviating child poverty, in general, stable marriage has a far stronger effect than does maternal schooling," say Rector and Johnson. "Maternal education without marriage is relatively ineffective in reducing child poverty. The poverty levels of children raised by never-married mothers remain high even if the mother has a high school or college degree. For example, children living with never-married mothers with college degrees, on average, spend 28 percent of their lives in poverty. By contrast, the poverty rate of children raised in intact marriages by mothers with only a high-school education is far lower, 7.8 percent."
"Reducing child poverty is a very important policy goal," say Rector and Johnson. "The most effective policies would encourage women to at least finish high school and enter into healthy marriages before having children. A policy that focuses on maternal education but is indifferent or hostile to marriage isn't likely to be successful."
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