NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The War on Poverty Has Waged a War on Marriage

November 20, 2014

When did marriage in America begin to decline? According to Senior Research Fellow Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, marriage rates began to fall as welfare programs grew in number and scope -- a result that he calls "no accident."

At the outset of the war on poverty in 1964, there was one program -- Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- that provided aid to single parents. At that point, out of wedlock birth rates were less than 10 percent.

But today, there are more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that allow single parents to access government aid, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Women, Infants and Children food program, public housing and Medicaid. While both married and single-parent families qualify for these programs, Rector writes that most assistance goes to single-parent families.

What's the connection between these programs and single parenthood? According to Rector, by providing aid to single-parent families, these programs enable a single parent to more easily raise children without another parent in the home providing support. Moreover, the programs effectively hurt the parents who do choose to marry, because benefits are reduced -- and cut off -- when household earnings increase. A single mother who chooses to marry the father of her child may lose a significant amount of welfare benefits, but, by remaining single, she can retain those benefits. He offers the example of a single mother earning $20,000 annually -- if she marries a man with the same level of earnings, they will lose $12,000 per year in welfare benefits.

Source:  Robert Rector, "How the War on Poverty Has Hurt American Marriage Rates," Daily Signal, November 18, 2014.


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