- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

America’s economic revival is tied to the revival of a strong marriage culture, according to a new study.

Compared with other family arrangements, marriage offers the best economic outcomes for men, women, children and the nation, said Patrick Fagan, head of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at the Family Research Council (FRC), in an analysis released late last week.

Only 5.8 percent of married families lived in poverty in 2009, he noted in the new study, called “Marriage and Economic Well-Being: The Economy of the Family Rises or Falls With Marriage.”

Husbands tend to have more stable employment histories and earn, on average, almost 30 percent more than men who are not married. Wives are less likely to be impoverished, and children from married families have stronger “economic mobility” as adults, meaning they are more likely to work their way from good jobs to better ones over their lifetimes, according to the data.

Even remarriage, as fraught as it is with challenges, can have positive economic outcomes for all involved, said Mr. Fagan. “Remarriage tends to increase income and restore some lost wealth” for men and women, while the poverty rate among children whose mothers remarry after divorce goes down by 66 percent, he said.

Mr. Fagan argued that the federal government’s welfare and anti-poverty safety net - which now accounts for $112 billion a year - is needed in part because of the social costs from high rates of cohabiting, divorce, unwed childbearing and single-parenting.

These unmarried family forms are associated with lower incomes and less wealth, according to data from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances cited in the FRC report.

For instance, the median income of households with children was $82,270 for intact married families; $65,816 for remarried stepfamilies; $45,248 for widowed families and unmarried-but-cohabiting “stepfamilies”; $37,021 for divorced families; $28,794 for “intact” cohabiting families and married-but-separated families; and $16,454 for never-married, single-parent families, the report said.

The differences were even starker when median net worth of households with children was compared by family structure: Widowed families were worth $295,400, followed by intact married families, with $228,200. The next two highest median net worths were among remarried stepfamilies, with $96,000, and divorced families, with $32,390. Other family types had net worths between $9,000 and $400, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances.

“If the government pledged to reduce family breakdown by just 1 percent, taxpayers would save around $1.1 billion a year,” said Mr. Fagan. America’s economic fortunes and sexual culture “rise or fall together,” he added.

The 2010 U.S. Census found that traditional married-couple households now make up less than half of all American households, a sharp drop from the immediate post-World War II period. In 1950, 78 percent of homes were led by husband-wife couples, a share that fell to 52 percent (54.5 million homes) by 2000 and sank again to 48 percent (56.5 million homes) in 2010.

The second-most common household in 2010 was a one-person home. Some 31 million people lived alone, representing 27 percent of the 116.7 million households, according to census data.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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