NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Subsidizing Marriage

August 22, 2003

The welfare reauthorization bill passed by the House and awaiting Senate action would allot nearly $2 billion over the next six years to encourage people to marry. States receiving these funds would have to establish programs that encourage and support "healthy two-parent married families."

Although supporting marriage sounds like a good idea, says Michael Tanner, but for a variety of reasons the program is unlikely to help its intended audience: poor single mothers on welfare.

  • High poverty areas tend to have few "marriageable" men: Census data shows that more than a third of fathers of children born out-of-wedlock had no high school degree, 28 percent were unemployed and 38 percent had criminal records.
  • Gains from marriage would be marginal for the half of poor unwed mothers who live with their child's father and the other third who are romantically involved but living separately; in either case, the father is presumably providing some economic support.
  • Teenage mothers who marry are more likely than single mothers to have a second child while still young.
  • Young mothers who wed are more likely to divorce and have a higher incidence of domestic violence.

The problem is not one of marriage, says Tanner, but out-of-wedlock births. Working toward reducing teenage pregnancy rates would help get more young women out of poverty, while creating a big federal program to encourage marriage may or may not work.

Source: Michael Tanner (Cato Institute), "Wedded to Poverty," New York Times, July 29, 2003.

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