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Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) recently hosted a long overdue conference on the importance of marriage in Indiana. The outstanding event featured scholars from the National Marriage Project, The Brookings Institute, American University, The Urban Institute, and parenting experts and program administrators from the Oklahoma Marriage Project.
The presentations described what scores of researchers, demographers, and sociologists have been warning about with the decline of marriage in America. Children living apart from their married biological mother and father are at significant social and economic risks. The state often must come in to pick up those pieces due to the increases in poverty, abuse, drug abuse, mental and physical health risks, employment, and educational disadvantages.
The day was chock full of the mountain of data which shows why marriage matters to society, and why there is no equally beneficial substitute (like cohabitation). For example:
• Forty percent of children raised by a single mom live in poverty, compared to only 8 percent of children raised by a married mother and father.
• Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers.
• College kids from single-parent, or divorced homes are 31 percent less likely to graduate from college than their peers from intact homes.
• Teens in a home where mom (or dad) is cohabiting (living together outside of marriage) are 116% more likely to use marijuana.
• Domestic violence is more than twice as high in single or cohabiting homes than in married intact families.
• Mothers who have never married–including those who are single and living either alone or with a boyfriend and those who are cohabiting with their child’s father–are more than twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime than married mothers.
• Children aged 3 to 12 who live in intact families have higher average math scores than peers whose mothers live in cohabiting relationships.
• Middle school and high school students who experience a parental divorce tend to suffer declines in their grade point averages and are more likely to fail a course one year later compared to peers of married parents.
• Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency than their peers living in non-intact families.
• Thirty-three percent of children from intact married homes ranked as high academic achievers, compared with just 17 percent of children from single-parent homes.
All this is not to say that so many single parents do heroic work and millions of children will succeed and defy these risks, particularly when religious faith is a part of their home. Yet, public policy must consider the vital role marriage plays in the well being of children and adults, and therefore in society.
For decades, researchers have warned of the societal price we all pay with the decline of marriage, rise in divorce, single parenting, and out-of-wedlock births. Marriage is in decline, and devalued, in many segments of society. The devaluing of marriage is no longer predominantly among lower economic classes. It is unraveling among the middle class as well. Yet, in the upper income classes of the college educated, marriage has stabilized. Divorce has declined and out-of-wedlock births are only about 8%. This has created what scholars yesterday warned is a very stark “separate and unequal family devolution” between the upper class and middle and lower economic classes.
One in three US children (15 million) today lives without their biological father in their home. (Five million children live without a mother.) In 1960, only 1 in 10 US children lived in homes without their fathers. The growth in poverty is largely due to our societal retreat from marriage. One study found that if Indiana’s marriage rates were simply what they were in 1970, our poverty rate would be a full third lower than it is now.
If President Barack Obama were truly concerned about real income inequality, he would look at the marriage gap and the huge role marriage plays in economic advancement. The median income of married men living with their spouses is 64 percent greater than that of married men whose spouses are absent, 109 percent greater than never-married men, and 33 percent greater than divorced men.
Marriage matters to society and to Indiana. It is why the Governor’s summit was so important. As President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, “Unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together – all the rest, schools, playgrounds and public assistance, and private concern, will never be enough to completely cut the circle of despair and deprivation.”