What Role Does Marriage Play in Poverty?


Let's stop dismissing the idea that marriage is unimportant in the effort to address poverty, Parham writes.

Marriage plays a significant role in the struggle against poverty, contrary to the argument that is made in some liberal quarters.

For reasons that I don't understand, some have an almost reptilian reaction against the suggestion that marriage is an economic positive for families and children.

I don't know if at their core they oppose marriage, or if they are hard-wired to the rigid ideology that only government money can solve poverty, or if there is some other driving force at work.

Their argument is that marriage is not a "panacea for poverty." Their claim that marriage is of little importance in addressing family poverty holds widespread cultural influence.

Yet what serious person looks at the complex world and concludes that marriage is the singular answer to poverty? I know of no thoughtful pastor who holds this view.

Thankfully, Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, provides a counter argument with evidence against the truncated liberal argument.

He writes, "just because putting a ring on ... won't cure poverty ... doesn't mean ... marriage plays no role in the fight against poverty. In truth, marriage is one important tool, among others - from high-quality education to wage subsidies for low-income jobs - in the fight against poverty."

He presents four arguments with evidence in support of marriage as a tool against poverty:

First, Wilcox points out that "marriage dramatically reduces the odds of poverty."

Using sociological data from the 2015 Current Population Survey, he shows, "whether you are college-educated or not, black, Hispanic or white, young or middle-aged, your family is markedly less likely to be poor if you are married."

Education and marriage bypass race, ethnicity and age in predicting family poverty.

Second, he says that states with higher marriage rates have significantly lower child poverty rates. This is based on his research and that of two economists.

Third, Wilcox argues that "the American Dream for poor children is strongest in communities and states with a higher share of married parents."

According to his research, "children raised in families at the 25th income percentile enjoyed higher incomes at age 30 if they were raised in states with a greater share of married families. In fact, poor children from states in the top quintile of married families enjoyed 10.5 percent greater upward mobility as adults than poor children raised in states in the bottom quintile of married families, even controlling for factors like statewide trends in education, employment and race."

Fourth, "men without college degrees who marry work harder and make more money in comparison to comparable peers who are single," Wilcox observes. "Marriage seems to motivate men to work harder, more strategically and more successfully, all of which boosts the average married family's income."

Please read Wilcox's complete article.

EthicsDaily.com has long been concerned about children in poverty and how to strengthen marriage.

We've held family conferences and posted articles. We've advocated for better education and more funding for anti-poverty programs. We've honored the idea that it takes "a village" to raise healthy children.

We have signed onto the Circle of Protection letter calling on presidential candidates and public officials to support domestic and global efforts to address poverty and hunger. We have energetically advocated for this ecumenical Christian effort.

We have argued for the critical nature of fathers in families. We have expressed concern about the crippling nature of so many children born out of wedlock and raised in families without fathers, a controversial matter which some hotly opposed in some public conversation.

Frequent news reports go out of their way to avoid reporting that murder rates and shootings are widespread in some minority communities mired in poverty, abandoned by responsible adult males.

One recent exception is a report to the Nashville mayor which acknowledged that "African-American males are disproportionally involved in crime," according to The Tennessean. One of the causal factors in the "epidemic" of youth violence was "a lack of adult role models."

No amount of government money will heal these communities.

Young males need a positive male role model and the discipline fathers provide. Yet even President Obama has been sharply criticized for addressing fatherless families and called for male accountability.

Perhaps no civic institution is needed more to advocate for marriage and to equip married couples than the church.

Let's stop dismissing the idea that marriage is unimportant in the effort to address poverty.

Let's begin speaking energetically for marriage as an important tool in reducing poverty with all its negative side effects.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter @RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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Tags: Family, Marriage, Parenting, Poverty, Robert Parham


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