Now it Can Be Said

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

Now it Can Be Said

May 23, 2003 4 min read

Visiting Fellow

It's time somebody say it loud and clear: God designed marriage as the ideal institution for creating a prosperous, stable and healthy environment for children.

And the facts prove it. Unfortunately, in today's world of drive-by divorce and "love the one you're with" hedonism, too many people have no clue of the importance of marriage as the basic unit of society. That's why the recent "Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study" is so important. It proves that - despite pop culture, despite the fact that it isn't politically correct - the best place to raise a child is inside a stable marriage.

The "Fragile Families" survey is a nationwide multi-year project developed by Princeton and Columbia universities. Researchers at the Heritage Foundation studied data from the first year of the survey and released an explosive report that shows how marriage vows taken today can immediately lift hundreds of thousand of children out of poverty.

A few key foundational facts:

  • More than one third of mothers in the "Fragile Families" study were single when their child was born. But these are not helpless, indecisive teen-agers. The median age for these mothers is 22.
  • Almost half of these new mothers are living with the father of their child around the time of the child's birth. Another 23 percent say they are still "romantically involved" with the daddy.
  • Virtually every father in the survey is a working man. Ninety-seven percent had held a job in the previous year, and 82 percent were employed when their child was born.

The above three points mean that nearly three-quarters of new parents are still seeing each other when their child is born.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Heritage Foundation researchers designed a simulation to predict what will happen if those mothers remain single, and what would happen if the parents get married. The simulation assumes the father's income remains the same as it was in the year before his child was born. The results are astounding:

  • If the mother does not work and remains single, she will raise her child in poverty. They will be dependent on welfare benefits, which will not provide enough to lift them above the poverty line.
  • If, however, the mother and father marry and the mother does not work, the father's income alone will be enough to lift almost two-thirds of the families out of poverty. Only about 35 percent will still be poor.
  • If the mother works part-time and remains single, more than half the time (55 percent) she will raise her child in poverty.
  • If, however, the mother and father marry and the mother works part time, more than 80 percent of the families will be lifted out of poverty. Only 17 percent will remain poor.

Clearly, marriage is the best and easiest way to lift these families out of poverty. And, as a different Heritage Foundation study last year proved, children who are raised in marriage by their biological parents are less likely to have emotional problems, less likely to be abused, less likely to become criminals and less likely to end up on welfare when they become adults.

So getting married is a win-win for the parents and the children. Sadly, only about one in 10 of these couples will actually tie the knot.

That's where a new proposal by President George W. Bush comes in. It would encourage marriage among couples at or around the moment of their child's birth. To do so, it would reduce the marriage penalties contained in current welfare programs - shortsighted policies that tend to discourage marriage and thus end up encouraging long-term welfare dependence.

It would also provide:

  • Accurate information about the value of marriage for the parents and their child.
  • Marriage skills education to help parents reduce conflict and improve their relationship.

The president's proposal will aim to create a healthy family environment without creating another big-government welfare program. And it will do all this for a modest investment of $300 million per year. TAKE NOTE: That's one penny for every five dollars the government currently spends to support single parent families.

Is there more to a successful home than a wedding vow? Of course. But it is the essential first step in creating the environment to help children who are suffering now. We've become so skeptical of government (and for good reason) that many of us instinctively shake our heads at any and all legislative initiatives.

The truth is, the principles to helping build long-term strong marriages contained in the president's proposal are as old as the family itself. History - and current data - prove that the principles work. President Bush's plan is a voluntary pilot program, but one that we should all rally behind. As the numbers show, for many young parents and their children, marriage is a good first step toward a brighter future.

Reprinted with permission of the internet newspaper

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, a research and educational think-tank whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense. She is also the former vice president of communications for WorldNetDaily and her 60-second radio commentaries can be heard on the Salem Communications Network.