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Marriage Matters in Economics, Too September 18, 2014 by Samuel James

Contemporary political discourse frequently speaks in divisions like “social issues,” “the economy,” and “foreign policy.” While not without truth, these highly demarcated categories can obscure the real way in which worldview and policy in one area can affect the other. A practical example was offered by Joe Carter at the Acton blog. He writes that economics and marriage have a closer relationship than you might believe:

From 2007 to 2011, the American population increased by 10,360,000 while the number of marriages decreased during that same period by 79,000. Over the last few years we’ve seen the same trend: more people, fewer marriages.
The poverty rate among married couples is less than half the average (about 6 percent). And for married couples who both have full-time jobs, the rate is almost non-existent (0.001 percent). The rate for single parents, though, is about 4 to 5 times higher than for married couples (25 percent among single dads and 31 percent among single moms).
The effect of the decline in marriage, coupled with an increase in single parenthood, is that many more children live in poverty than they would if marriage was more common.
 

The poverty/marriage link is important for conversations about marriage because it rebuffs a couple of common talking points:

1) It flatly contradicts the idea that marriage exists in a cultural vacuum. Proponents of same sex marriage often argue that the definition of marriage only harms those it excludes. It’s an issue of privately held belief, they argue, and not one of general well-being and interest to culture. But this data clearly demonstrates that what happens in a society’s marriages affects tangent issues like economics. If that’s true, how can we be confident that the redefinition of marriage will not actually affect anyone negatively?

2) It subverts the notion that beliefs about marriage are more or less equal. Those who would redefine marriage usually argue that the question of what is marriage is hopelessly chained to the evolving values of contemporary society. When a definition is obsolete via changing cultural values, we should change it. Yet not all beliefs about marriage are equal if some beliefs—such as the belief that cohabitation and hook up culture are preferable alternatives—lead to poverty or other hardship. If that’s true, how can we in good conscience subject what we believe about marriage to contemporary mores which could be wrong?



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