April 10, 2014
Why Are Marriages Plunging & Unwed Births Soaring?
By Mike McManus
The American family is falling apart. Consider two grim
The U.S. marriage rate has plunged 57% since 1970, according to “The State of
Our Unions” for 2012. Two-thirds of Americans over age 15 used to be married.
Now it is only 48%.
The unwed birth rate was only 5% in 1960 and 10.7% in 1970. However, that figure
has soared to 40.8% in 2010. In fact, 53% of all births to women under age 30
were to unmarried women.
What’s gone wrong? Uncle Sugar, as Mike Huckabee puts it, is the culprit.
Here’s the standard scenario. Susan gives birth –a happy occasion. An official
will ask her: “Are your married? Who is the father?” If the first answer is No,
the second question is important to government. Bill’s full name and address
will be taken down, because he will be assessed for child support.
However, Uncle Sugar has good news for Susan. Her medical expenses of the birth
will be covered by Medicaid – as well as future health care for her child for 18
years and for herself. She will begin getting welfare (Temporary Assistance to
Needy Families) plus food stamps and possibly housing subsidies. If she goes
back to work, she’ll get an Earned Income Tax Credit and subsidized day care.
However, if Susan marries Bill, they will lose most of those benefits.
So guess what? Fewer couples marry and marriage rates fall. More babies are born
out of wedlock and government costs soar. The government gets what it pays for.
However, I have a simple question: Why is government subsidizing couples to live
together rather than to marry? This makes no sense to anyone – to the couple,
their child, or to taxpayers who foot the bill.
The cost to taxpayers is immense. One study estimated 41% of cohabiting couples
have children – almost the same as 46% of married couples. There were 8 million
cohabiting couples in 2013. If 41% have kids, that’s 3,280,000 – if each couple
has only one child each.
The cost? A staggering $82 billion. If they have only one child each.
There were about 4 million births in 2011, 40.8% of whom were to unmarried
parents. Or 1,632,000 unwed births at a one-year cost of $40.8 billion.
It is time for what I call Cohabitation Reform. It comes in two parts.
First, the official who asks the unwed mother about the father, must add another
question: “Are you cohabiting with him? BTW, we need his address and Social
Security number. If he has the same address as you, you have access to his
income as if you were married. Therefore, you are not eligible for the same
benefits given to a single woman.”
What about the 3.3 million cohabiting couples who are already getting those
If I were running for governor this year in California, Texas, New York,
Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois or 27 other states, I would pledge “Cohabitation
Reform” with a triple goal of increasing marriages, reducing unwed births and
slashing government costs.
“One reason our marriage rate has been dropping and unwed births are rising is
that the state subsidizes couples to live together – but not to marry,” a
candidate might say. “This makes no sense to anyone. Therefore, if I am elected
governor, this state will subsidize unwed couples with children to marry –
rather than to cohabit.
“Currently, if a cohabiting couple with a child marries, they lose $20,000 to
$25,000 of benefits. However, if I am governor, I will make those couples an
offer: if you marry, we will not cut your benefits for two years. After two
years, the benefits will taper off over three more years. Married men earn more
than cohabiting men, and subsidies are not needed.
“However, everyone will be better off. Couples who marry are healthier,
wealthier, have more sex and better sex than singles. They even live longer –
ten more years for married men, and four years longer for women. Their children
do better in school, are far less delinquent or apt to commit suicide and will
also live five years longer than children of unmarried parents.
“The percentage of Americans who are married will rise. Unwed births will fall –
as will the costs of government, by billions of dollars. Even crime rates will
fall. El Paso cut its divorce rate by 79.5%, and has been America’s safest large
city for four years.
“Cohabitation Reform makes everyone a winner – including, I hope, this candidate