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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,874
July 24, 2017
A Marshall Plan For Marriage
By Mike McManus

After World War II, with its territory largely unscathed by the fires of war, America launched the Marshall Plan to restore the shattered economies of Europe. We supplied raw materials of economic recovery to nations at risk of a "breakdown of moral, social and commercial life."

Six years ago, before he was President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, Chuck Donovan, said that the "breakdown of marriage" in America calls for a similar visionary response. He urged creating a "Marshall Plan for Marriage" that could "reverse this decline."

In November, 2010 TIME magazine and the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that nearly four in 10 Americans think "marriage is obsolete." There is substantial evidence that assessment is correct:

  • America's marriage rate has fallen 57% since 1970, from 76.5 marriages per 1,000 women to only 32.9 per 1,000 in 2010. In 1960 72% of households were headed by married couples, but that fell to only 48% in 2015.
  • Only 430,000 couples were cohabiting in 1960, but 19 times as many - 8 million were living together in 2016! That's four times the 2 million who married.
  • America's 23% divorce rate after five years of marriage - is triple the 8% of Britain or France. Why? If a British woman wants a divorce, but her husband does not, they have to wait 5 years for the divorce and 6 years in France. Five or six years allows a lot of time for couples to reconcile. By contrast, 30 states have a ZERO waiting period!
  • Four in ten American children are born out-of-wedlock - 20 times Japan's 2% rate. Result: our kids perform poorly academically. On international math tests, U.S. kids scored at the bottom - 31st out of 31 countries vs. 8th for Japan.

How could a Marshall Plan for Marriage change these trends?

First, tax credits should be given to couples who marry - rather than to couples who cohabit. At present if a cohabiting couple has a child, the mother gets Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits worth $25,000 a year, because she is single. However, she has the benefit of her partner's income as if she were married. But if she marries him, she loses those benefits.

Second with Obamacare: "Married couples will generally receive $1,500 to $10,000 less per year in health care premium support than cohabiting couples with the same combined income," Donovan asserts. Clearly, such an anti-marriage bias should be removed from the law.

Third, the "Safe and Stable Families Block Grant" of $443 million per year is supposed to be used for parenting skills training and "to strengthen parental relationships and promote healthy marriage." However, in my 31 years of working in this field, I am unaware of any impact it has had to increase the marriage rate or to reduce the divorce rate in any state.

Fourth, a broad media campaign promoting marriage can play an important role. One TV campaign could simply make this statement in 30 seconds: "Children of divorce and non-marriage are three times more likely to be expelled from school or to have a child as a teenager as are children from intact homes, are five times more apt to live in poverty, six times more likely to commit suicide and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated than children with married parents according to a Heritage Foundation study by Pat Fagan and Robert Rector."  That would be a great 30 second ad!

Fifth, states should recognize that a significant percentage of divorcing couples, especially those with children, would respond to reconciliation efforts and restore their marriages. For example, 10,000 churches have trained couples whose own marriages once nearly failed - to mentor those in current crisis, and saved 80% of them, according to Marriage Savers, that my wife and I lead, which has trained Mentor Couples in 230 cities.

Sixth, "Finding new and better ways to publicly celebrate and encourage enduring marriages may be one of the most critical ways that a Marshall Plan for Marriage could succeed," Donovan suggested. "For example, civic organizations and churches that once honored or still honor couples on their 40th or 50th wedding anniversaries might consider honoring and encouraging married couples on earlier and pivotal milestones, such as their fifth or 10th anniversaries. Marital Longevity Day might be linked to National Marriage Week."

Donovan notes that the annual public cost of divorce and unmarried child bearing range as high as $112 billion. And couples who avoid divorce save the taxpayer billions.

Let's launch a Marshall Plan for Marriage!
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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