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Increasing Marriage Would Dramatically Reduce Child Poverty

Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Patrick F. Fagan, and Lauren R. Noyes

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Center for Data Analysis Report

In 2001, 1.35 million children were born outside marriage. This represents 33.5 percent of all children born in the United States in that year. Children raised by never-married mothers are seven times more likely to be poor when compared to children raised in intact married families. The obvious nexus between single-parent families and child poverty has led President George W. Bush to propose a new trial program aimed at increasing child well-being and reducing child poverty by promoting healthy marriage.

Critics have rejected President Bush's proposal as illogical. They argue that increasing marriage would not significantly reduce child poverty for two reasons: first, that there is a substantial shortage of suitable males for single mothers to marry, and second, that even if single mothers married the father of their children, the earnings of the fathers are so low that they would not lift the family out of poverty.

However, new light has been shed on the status of non-married parents though the recent Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. The Fragile Families survey is a nationwide effort to collect data on both married and non-married parents at the time of a child's birth. The survey reveals that most of the claims about marriage and non-married fathers made by the opponents of the Bush "healthy marriage" proposal are wildly inaccurate.

The Fragile Families Study shows the following:

  • The median age of non-married mothers is 22 at the time of birth of the child.
  • Nearly three-quarters of non-married mothers are in a relatively stable romantic relationship with the expectant father at around the time of birth of their child.
  • The expectant non-married fathers who have a romantic involvement with the mother-to-be are quite "marriageable." Very few have drug, alcohol, or physical abuse problems.
  • On average, the earnings of non-married expectant fathers are higher than the earnings of expectant mothers in the year before the child's birth.
  • The median annual earnings of non-married fathers are approximately $17,500 per year.

Read the entire study on The Heritage Foundation website.



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