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October 30, 2014
Column #1,731
Impact of Marriage on Income
By Mike McManus

There has been a retreat of marriage in America. In 1980 78% of families were headed by married parents – but only 66% in 2012.

“The growth in median income of families with children would be 44% higher if the United States enjoyed 1980 levels of married parenthood today,” reports an important new study, “For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America.”

Here is the reason average income in America has declined. Fewer are marrying.

However, there is important good news for couples who do marry: “Men and women who are currently married and were raised by an intact family enjoy an annual `family premium’ in their household income that exceeds that of their unmarried peers raised in non-intact families by at least $42,000,” said the report written by W. Bradford Wilcox and Robert Lerman.

To put that more simply: couples who marry will earn $42,000 more than those who cohabit or remain single.

Good news for parents of young adults and pastors!

What’s more, the economic advantages of being married “apply as much to blacks and Hispanics as they do to whites.” For example, average men who marry enjoy a $15.900 “marriage premium,” while blacks enjoy at least a $12,500 premium and men with only a high school degree or less get a $17,000 income boost compared to their single peers.

Unfortunately, however, most who marry are the well-educated with higher incomes. Those with less education and income are the least likely to marry.

Therefore, the decline of marriage accounts for as much as 41% of the growth in family income inequality from 1976 to 2000. Single parenthood has soared in recent years. Why?

Men without college degrees have experienced a decline in real income and relative to women’s wages. These men have become “less marriageable.” That has made marriage less attractive to women. Unmarried mothers can not only earn good wages, but get government subsidies such as Medicaid and food stamps.

The percentage of teenagers living with married parents fell from three-quarters in the late 1970s to slightly more than half in 1997. Teens without both parents are more apt to get pregnant or become delinquent.

Marriage fosters maturity in men, self-control and success. As George Akerlof, author of “Men Without Children,” put it memorably, “Men settle down when they get married. If they fail to get married they fail to settle down.”

Married men work 441 more hours per year than their single peers. That’s one reason they earn more. For those aged 44-46 their family income is $44,350 more than unmarried men.

Furthermore, “Marriage gains in economic outcomes are higher for the less educated and for African Americans,” the report asserted.

Even those who did not grow up with married parents, but who marry “do about as well or almost as well as their peers who enjoyed a stable family upbringing.”

However, growing up with both parents increases one’s odds of becoming highly educated, “which in turn leads to higher odds of being married. Both the added education and marriage results in higher income levels.”

Conversely, the retreat from marriage by less educated, lower income Americans is the primary reason ordinary American families have experienced declining economic fortunes.

What can be done to rebuild marriage in America?

Brad Wilcox, who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute – offer these suggestions:

First, halt federal and state financial penalties of marriage. Unmarried women with children have government subsidies equal to a spouse working full-time at $11 an hour. But if a cohabiting couple marries, she loses those benefits. To encourage marriage, benefits might not be cut for three years.

Second, they propose expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for men without children to $1,000 to increase their incentive to work. And the child tax credit “should be expanded from $1,000 to $3,000.”

Third, they argue that government devotes disproportionate subsidies for college that are attended by only 35% of young adults. Why not expand vocational education and apprenticeships to give other young people skills, confidence and opportunity?

Finally, there needs to be a national campaign to promote the “success sequence,” to finish education, get a job, get married and then have children, in that order. Such a campaign could be modeled on the campaign to prevent teen pregnancy that cut teen births by 50%. Similar campaigns to reduce drunk driving and smoking were also successful.

“For Richer, for Poorer” is packed with fresh analysis and suggestions.

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