NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pro-Marriage Policies Shouldn't Leave Unwed Families Behind

September 6, 2001

Children raised by two married parents have lower poverty rates, are more likely to complete high school, less likely to become premature parents, and less likely to become involved in crime. Because of the benefits of marriage, many policy analysts believe welfare and child support policies should promote marriage rather than support single-parent families. Some want to mandate marriage as the only family structure states could seek to strengthen with federal funds under the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

However, Ronald B. Mincy of Columbia University warns that promoting marriage but denying support to any other family structure would be far less successful for racial and ethnic minorities, leaving minority children at a higher risk of poverty.

An exclusive focus on promoting marriage would be less successful because the retreat from marriage is more advanced among minority populations, says Mincy:

  • Only 25 percent of white children are born to unwed parents, whereas 40 percent of Latino children and nearly 70 percent of African American children are born to unmarried parents.
  • Male employment and earnings have a strong effect on the likelihood that unwed mothers and cohabiting women will marry their partners, but employment rates are lower among minority men.
  • While most young cohabiting mothers intend to marry the fathers of their children, blacks are less likely to do so.

Marriage may not be feasible for such families, and programs designed to improve their situation should not be excluded. For instance, unwed fathers cohabiting with mothers, and noncustodial fathers who visit their children at least once a week, are highly involved in their children's lives. Supervisory welfare and child-support enforcement programs for such "fragile families" require training in parenting and relationship skills, and attempt to improve education and employment prospects.

Source: Ronald B. Mincy, "Marriage, Child Poverty, and Public Policy," American Experiment Quarterly, Summer 2001, Center of the American Experiment, 1024 Plymouth Building, 12 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, Minn., 55402, (612) 338-3605.


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