The Missing Link: Marriage and Money

Two news stories, today, caught my attention. The first noted that there was a shrinking middle class, with nearly 50% of Americans now being classified as below the poverty level or low income.  The second story noted that the marriage rate is continuing to decline.  Is there a correlation?  Are we missing an important link?

Before looking for an answer in social science data, let’s look at how we might view the two stories based on the perspective from which we might view the world.

From a worldview perspective those who come from a secular humanist perspective  would look at the first article on poverty and probably assert that  the problem is related to circumstances, lack of good education in the public school system, the government (either through its laws and programs or lack thereof), or “the economy.”  It certainly would not be the product of a moral problem and, as a consequence, the second article is interesting but not related to the first.

For those who might look at the first article form a Biblical worldview, they would tend to look at the second article, about the decline in marriage, and say that the second story reflects that the fact that the poverty in the first story is more of a moral problem.  And the moral problem is, namely, our societal loss of understanding related to the God-ordained nature of marriage and sexual expression, the family, and parental responsibilities.

But, apart from worldview, the social science data shows that the breakdown of the family has a tremendous impact on poverty and the shrinking of the middle class.  Here is some data from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s recent study on the relationship between the economy and marriage:

  • There is the 10 IQ point advantage for those children whose early childhood was spent in a stable, caring family.  D. Armor, Maximizing Intelligence, Transaction Publishers, 2003.  This comprises a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth analysis.
  • Married men experience the “marriage premium” in earnings compared to unmarried men.  This decline in marriage deprives the economy of the remarkably large effect of marriage, a 0.9 percent income increase per year for married men, which, to put it in context, is nearly as large as the income increase for years experience on-the-job 1.
  • From 1980 to 2010, there was a decrease in annual GDP growth.  During these decades that average growth was roughly three percent.  From 1980 to 2010, population growth contributed more than one percent to this three percent growth (cf. Chart 2).18  However, due to the post-1960s/1970s massive rise in contraception and abortion, the number of children in the average American household fell by 50 percent.  This now-embedded population trend will give us barely one-half of one percent of GDP growth contrasted to the prior one percent.
  • With $2 million as the median lifetime earnings of the U.S. household, the long run effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s [approximately $100 trillion:  $2 million x 50 million heads-of-households lost] dwarf any other factor in the macro-economy.

Consequently, the income levels of the families of this new economy cannot financially support our needs the way they once could.  Hence, government has had to go overseas more to find purchasers.

For additional data substantiating the link between marriage and poverty, check out this study by the Heritage Foundation.

Sadly, the young woman noted in the Tennessean article on poverty is 18.  Having a 7 month old baby means she was probably pregnant at age17.  And she and the baby’s father were never married.  As the research showings, finishing high school and waiting to have children until after one is married greatly reduces the likelihood of poverty, as much as 82% (see page 4 of this study from the Heritage Foundation)

It is tragic that some continue to learn the hard way the truth about the reality of moral restraints and boundaries that are as real as the laws of science. And it’s even more tragic that an increasing number don’t seem to learn at all.

The bottom line is that freedom from moral restraints and boundaries exacts a high cost from everyone.  And the civil government doesn’t have enough money to bail us out.  More self-government, not more civil government, is what we need.

  1. 2 percent per year