Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Marriage Rates Tied to Economics

The recent news that half of all women in our country are single, marriage rates are down nearly 50 percent since 1970, and couples are divorcing at high rates didn't surprise me. Within my circle of friends and family, there are few people who don't fall within one of those categories. Their reasons for postponing marriage, remaining single or getting divorced vary, but money has played a key role in most cases. That's why this article didn't surprise me either:

Declining marriage rate tied more to economics than anything else
This is old news. Drill a bit deeper in the statistics, and you’ll unearth a much more remarkable fact: Better-off couples are half as likely to divorce. Families with annual incomes of more than $50,000 have a 31 percent chance of divorce after 15 years, according to a study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, whereas families with incomes below $25,000 have a 65 percent chance.

Income predicts divorce with great accuracy. The numbers suggest that a key variable in family stability is less cultural or sociological — less about personal values — than about economics. It is hard to get along when you can’t get by. [...]

The Bush administration has focused on marriage as an anti-poverty program, with the government directing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to help marriages flourish. I agree that healthy marriages should be encouraged. Married couples have higher incomes through their combined efforts, generally provide a better environment to raise children and bring wider social stability. But just teaching people conflict resolution and relationship skills is not addressing the elephant in the room.

You want healthy marriages? Start reversing the growing income inequality and the you’re-on-your-own economy that America has become. You want healthy marriages? Start with healthy people and make sure that no American is without affordable health care and no employee has to lose a day’s pay when sick. [...]

You want healthy marriages? You want things to look more like the venerable 1950s, when people seemed calmer and more secure about their lives? Then return to defined benefit pensions. Only about 21 percent of workers in the private sector enjoy this peace of mind. We have shifted the risk of retirement onto workers’ shoulders. If you don’t invest wisely in your 401(k) or if you didn’t put enough of your income aside or if you outlive your nest egg, well, thems the breaks. [...]

You want healthy marriages? Then a $2-per-hour increase in the minimum wage won’t cut it. We should figure out what constitutes a living wage and make that the floor. [...]

If the Bush administration really wants to gird the institution of marriage, then it should forget about sermons on personal virtue (the government’s marriage programs are largely operated by faith-based institutions). Red states, which tend to be more avidly religious, have higher divorce rates than blue states. Whereas in low-divorce blue states, workers tend to have higher incomes. It’s not a matter of values, it’s a matter of value for one’s labor.
If we can't be generous with a portion of our tax dollars to help the living standards of families, then what's the point of saying we value marriage? Marriage takes commitment, hard work and sacrifice. Our nation should be leading the way and setting the example.

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