Monday, February 1, 2016

"Inequality" has nothing to do with divorce. But personal behavior does.

Sen. Rubio: Marriage is a route out of poverty
So, I'm writing a book on divorce. Actually, it's on why you should NOT divorce. Therefore I collect articles on the subject, and one I was just filing was from last week's New York Times, titled "Marriage, Poverty and the Political Divide."

The piece suggests that economic inequality works against marriage. It discounts Sen. Marco Rubio's assertion that marriage can lift parents and children from poverty.

But it doesn't get to the point--that the values of marriage shrink poverty rates, and it takes personal behavioral choices, not scrapping "inequality" with legal and policy change, to both support marriage and curb poverty. 

Sen. Rubio bases this pro-marriage remark on a Heritage Foundation report showing that 71% of families in poverty are headed by unmarried individuals. Of those who are not poor, 73% are headed by married couples. Married people are better off financially.

Makes sense. Certainly a couple pulling together can bring in more income than a single parent, and make what they have go further. Stay-at-home parents contribute by saving on day care and providing other services that make the family function.

One would hope that an absent parent would contribute to his child's support. The trouble is, among the poor, this is infrequently the case. In 2011, only half of all custodial parents had a child support agreement. Those with child support agreements actually received only 62% of what they were due. Of all custodial parents receiving child support, 24% were in poverty. Thirty percent of custodial mothers live below the poverty line.

So how does inequality shape a couple's future together?  How does the fact someone else earns a lot more than you do harm your marriage? Not clear. 

Writer Andrew L. Yarrow's article claims "Poorer Americans already aspire to marriage at similar or higher rates than their higher-income counterparts, according to a 2012 UCLA study. But when they do marry, their marriages are much more likely to end in divorce."

The piece neglects to mention that divorce not only correlates with poverty but also with education of the partners. The more education partners have, the more likely a couple will stay together, finds the Heritage Foundation.

And of course education is highly correlated with income. In other words, those with the tenacity and ability to make it through college or advanced degrees more often have the tenacity and ability to both earn more money and form an enduring marriage. 

This isn't sinister "inequality,"a societal ill to be corrected by policy-makers. This is simple variation among individuals. Certain personal abilities, values and behaviors promote certain outcomes. It's less a governmental problem than a personal problem, a values and behavioral problem. Individuals who exhibit characteristics that promote happy marriage can much more often sustain happy marriages.

The term "inequality" implies that something's askew, that everyone would have the same positive outcomes were it not for unfairness. Look at how the poor scramble to survive, while the rich buy $5,000 designer purses! If you believe that all individuals begin with the same potential, it follows that only factors imposed by luck or malice stand in anyone's way. And therefore laws and policies should remove those barriers. But if you look around, you notice that humans were not created with the same potentials, though we rightly offer everyone the same opportunities to maximize the potentials they have.

"Marriage is far from the magic bullet to end poverty that some conservatives claim," says Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress in the Times piece.

Nobody says it's magic, but being in a marriage is one of those opportunities that allows us to maximize our best selves. Says W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project,"Americans are more likely to realize the American dream if they get and stay married, and grow up in communities where marriage is stronger. Marriage fosters saving, facilitates economies of scale and encourages stability and family life, all things that are good for the average American's pocketbook."

In other words, the same values that support marriage support financial success. So it seems Sen. Rubio is right--a shortcut out of poverty could be living the commitment and values marriage requires. 


  1. Some great points in this article. Making the fundamental commitment of marriage and reaping the benefit subsequently gives rise to a broader sense of commitment to family, community and society. That sense of commitment forms the psychological basis for decisions that are based on the greater good. Without marriage our thinking is vastly different.

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  3. Hi Diane: It's a terrific article you have written here. But, in the interest of clarity, I would, instead, title your piece "Marriage, the Best Fortress Against Poverty," with the subheading as follows: "Societal 'inequality' does not in any way contribute to poverty or work against marriage. But personal behavior and choices do."

    I saw next to nothing in the article about divorce, but lots about marriage and poverty. Also, the unmodified word "Inequality" in the title made me wonder if the article would be about inequality within a marriage--one partner earning more than the other, etc.

    The overall title you chose was, to me, so misleading as to cause me to spend much of my time while reading the article trying to figure out how it related to its title. Not what you were aiming for, I'm sure!

    Keep up the good work! I, too, am a big fan of the "Cultural Crusader." You make a great pair. Thanks for all you both are doing in the cause of saving America and its families.

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  5. So people should stay married Isn't that about as shallow as marrying for money? How about the value of happiness? Or getting out of an emotionally toxic situation? I don't know kids. If something stops working for ya try to fix it obv, but if you can't, leave.