No doubt you’ve seen the headlines, Marriage Is Not an Antidote to Poverty. It’s a lie–or at least wishful thinking. If Marlboro came out with a pr campaign that said, “Anti-Smoking Efforts Fail to Curb Lung Cancer Rates” would you believe it? Or would some part of you say, “Hmmm. Maybe there is something else going on here.”
The same is true about the paper underlying the headlines. It’s a position paper–essentially a PR campaign of the marriage-hostile “Council on Contemporary Families”, and since all news is PR these days, the press is swallowing this report whole. The paper is fine for what it is, but it is not a study, nor does it report new findings. Despite what the news is leading you to believe (or has been lead to believe) this isn’t a new study demonstrating the failure of the marriage movement to address poverty. In fact, the position paper that is the source of all the buzz actually supports a foundational point of the marriage movement’s campaign to fight poverty. Namely, that marriage after baby is a risky proposition, especially if the husband isn’t the father.
University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox does a great job respectfully fisking this non-story.
Ironically, this CCF report just confirms that old wisdom recently articulated in the report Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America: namely, men, women, and children are much more likely to enjoy a stable and supportive family life when they sequence marriage before parenthood. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution pointed out in their book Creating an Opportunity Society, young adults who put education, work, marriage, and parenthood in the right order—first finishing high school (or college), then getting a job, then marrying, and then having a baby—face very low odds of poverty.
And while it is true that most of the federally funded programs designed to strengthen relationships among low-income couples with children have not achieved success, this is a common pattern for new policy initiatives (most of these programs are just a few years old). It usually takes some time for policymakers to figure out the best strategy to address a critical public policy challenge. Heck, almost fifty years after Head Start was launched, the evidence suggests the federal government still has not figured out how to make Pre-K effective for poor children—and yet, given preschool’s potential benefits, lawmakers remain determined to make the program work.
He goes on to share actual research on marriage initiatives that actually are fighting poverty. You should go read his post. It’s good stuff and essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come out on top in those water-cooler conversations where people can’t wait to tell you how your values are outdated and your morals are dead. The data is on our side, folks. When you see reports that claim to show that marriage isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, know that there is a growing body of data–never mind 4000 years of cultural experience–that gives you the power to say that the rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated.