The Marriage ‘Cure’


Statistics have long shown that if you’re married, the likelihood of you living below the poverty line is much lower. The unfairness of this correlation annoys me, as well as the deceptively simplified way it’s often presented, wrung into prescriptive “marriage promotion” campaigns that bemoan kids being born out of wedlock and so on.

Annie Lowrey’s latest for the Times is a nice antidote all of the, “just get married and everything will be okay,” rhetoric, and points out that not all marriages make our lives better, and that in reality, the poverty is what sucks, not the doing it alone part:

But even if Washington got rid of all its dumb and ineffective policies to promote marriage and implemented a number of smart ones to do so, it might all be for naught. Some researchers think that marriage — or a lack thereof — is not the real problem facing poor parents; being poor is. “It isn’t that having a lasting and successful marriage is a cure for living in poverty,” says Kristi Williams of Ohio State University. “Living in poverty is a barrier to having a lasting and successful marriage.”

To understand why, it is worth looking at the economic fortunes of the poor in isolation — marriage rates and childbearing out of wedlock aside. Globalization, the decline of labor unions, technological change and other tidal economic forces have battered the poor, with years of economic growth failing to lift their prospects. These forces have inevitably affected young people’s choices, researchers think.

If everyone trying to raise a family on low wages had a wonderful, supportive partnership where child-rearing and housekeeping were equally divided and/or income was doubled — sure, you’d probably be living more comfortably. But that just isn’t the reality for all people, or all marriages.

Also, what?

Creating good jobs with growing wages at the bottom of the income scale might be the best, if hardest, way to encourage young couples to wed. “Marriage is an emotional institution, a child-rearing institution and an economic institution,” says W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project. “Unless we improve the fortunes of poor working people, particularly poor working men, we aren’t going to see marriage coming back.” And then we wouldn’t need policy wonks and politicians peddling marriage as a salve for poverty. How romantic!

Maybe one day we will get to, “creating good jobs with growing wages at the bottom of the income scale might be the best, if hardest way to lift people out of poverty and let them make their own decisions about how to live their lives,” but this is a start.

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