- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2011

If the wealth of a nation is tied to both the quality and the quantity of its people, then modern trends toward cohabiting instead of marrying, easy divorce and fewer children born to couples will have sweeping economic consequences, a new report says.

The “long-term fortunes of the modern economy rise and fall with the family,” the Social Trends Institute says in its new report, “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend: What Do Marriage and Fertility Have to Do With the Economy?”

This is because economic growth, viability of welfare programs, size and quality of a workforce, and profitability of large sectors of an economy - health care and food, for instance - are intertwined with the family decisions of the populace, says the report, which is co-sponsored by six international institutions and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Countries should strive for “sustainable fertility” of at least two children per woman or a total fertility rate of 2.1, the report says. Among developed countries, it adds, the U.S. is an “outlier” with its relatively stable 2.0 fertility rate. Elsewhere, “the average woman in a developed country now bears just 1.66 children,” New America Foundation scholar Phillip Longman writes in the report.

Marriage also matters, the report says. Children raised in married, mother-father homes are the most likely to acquire the skills and behaviors conducive to becoming a “well-adjusted, productive” workforce. Also, “men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.”

Married couples with children are also economic “drivers” because they consume many services and goods, especially in child care, groceries, health care, home maintenance, household products, insurance and juvenile products, says W. Bradford Wilcox, associate sociology professor at UVa. and director of the National Marriage Project.

Married parents outspend childless singles and single parents in all these categories, and outspend married-but-childless couples in all but one category - “pets and toys,” adds Mr. Wilcox. That’s “probably because they are laying down big bucks for Fido.”

The new report urges countries to find ways to encourage strong marriage and family cultures as an economic strategy, and, as if on cue, the Obama administration Monday announced grants of $119 million to promote “healthy marriage” and “responsible fatherhood.”

“A strong and stable family is the greatest advantage any child can have,” said George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency awarded about $60 million to 61 marriage-strengthening groups, and $59 million to 59 fatherhood programs, including some that assist men leaving prison.

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

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