Study links state prosperity to two-parent families

by Juliana Chan Erikson
Posted 11/09/15, 10:35 am

Marriage isn’t just good for the kids: A new study says two-parent families may be good for the American economy, too.

The study, published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, adds to a growing body of research expounding on the tangible benefits of traditional marriage. The study authors analyzed state census data from the last 30 years and found states with the highest rates of marriage and children living with two parents tended to be wealthier and have higher rates of economic growth. Even after controlling for other factors like race, tax rates, age, and education levels, the authors concluded it probably was not a coincidence that marriage has such a positive impact.

Bradford Wilcox, one of the study’s authors, said marriage tends to foster good fiscal habits in families—men in particular—and states prosper as a result.

“They save more, and have more in savings,” said Wilcox, who also is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. “Married men tend to not beat around the bush when it comes to finding a job. And crime goes down.”

The happily married states are spread all over the United States and don’t resemble one another. In New Hampshire and Minnesota, for example, high education and income levels are credited with giving men and women the means to marry and sustain families. But in Utah, which does not boast the same high education or median income levels, two-parent families still dominate and child poverty rates are among the country’s lowest.

This comes as no surprise to Wilcox, who sees strong marriage rates and strong economies as a two-way street. When people get married, he says, state economies get stronger, and when state economies get stronger, people tend to get married.

Declining marriage rates, on the other hand, seemed to have the opposite effect, particularly exacerbating the plight of America’s poor. In economically struggling states like Kentucky and West Virginia, the study noted the rapid decline of marriage rates and two-parent families seemed to go hand in hand with falling household earning potential. The study authors theorize that because cohabiting couples are unclear about their relationship’s future, they do not do much with their finances, and that insecurity leads their families to help them even less.

Although this study is the first to draw links between marriage and state economies, research done by other scholars, including Charles Murray, Kay Hymowitz, and others, have long linked the decline in American marriage rates to financial instability and other social problems. In Hymowitz’s 2006 book Marriage and Caste in America, she claims the widening gap between rich and poor is caused by marriage—the rich wed, the poor don’t.

“Put the two trends together—more marriage among the better educated, on the one hand, and diminished prospects for the children of single mothers on the other—and you get double trouble for the country’s most vulnerable,” Hymowitz noted.

Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her husband and 3 children.

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