Report: Married Parents Raising Children Best Bet for Economic Prosperity of Family, Society

By Penny Starr | October 22, 2015 | 2:55pm EDT
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 21, 2015. ( Starr)

( – A report released by the American Enterprise Institute’s Institute for Family Studies showed that strong families have a direct impact on the economy in the states where they live and work and that married parents raising children are better predictors of economic mobility, child poverty and median family income than other demographics such as race or education.

“Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with more economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty and higher median family income at the state level in the United States,” the report stated.


Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from 1977 to 2012, the report made the case that strong families make states more prosperous – a fact often overlooked by economists, according to the report’s authors.

“In particular,” the report states, “left largely unexamined in the work of conservative economists such as Milton Friedman and Gregory Mankiw is how the emergence of a dynamic fee enterprise system might depend on strong families and a vibrant civil society,” the report stated.

The report, entitled “Strong Families, Prosperous States: Do Healthy Families Affect the Wealth of States,” showed a direct link between the rate of marriage in states and the state’s economic prosperity.

Over the past four decades, states like Kentucky, Delaware and West Virginia have seen the rate of marriage decline more than 25 percent. States where marriage has declined much less – Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and New Hampshire – have more education, higher median income for less-educated men and/or more religious and conservative populations, according to the report.

The report also addressed the link between violent crime and family structure.

“Strong families reduce the odds that children – especially males – act out as teenagers and young adults,” the report stated. “More specifically, young men from single-mother homes are about twice as likely to spend some time in jail or prison than men from intact, married homes, even after controlling for family income and parents’ education race/ethnicity, and age.”


Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) spoke ahead of panel discussions on the report and called what was happening to the American family a “genuine tragedy.”

“What’s happening now is a genuine tragedy,” Sasse said. “Not just for the individuals involved – we know that market forces and families are the two most important institutions in human history for lifting people out of poverty.”

He called the decline of the traditional family “an existential threat to our country,” citing statistics from Johns Hopkins University research that showed 64 percent of women who reported having a birth by 2011 had had at least one of their children outside of marriage.

That same report stated that, overall, 47 percent of all mothers had all of their children outside of marriage.

“To summarize, to the extent that states across the nation are home to strong families – especially as measured by the share of families headed by married parents – they enjoy above-average levels of economic growth, economic mobility, and median family income, and below average levels of child poverty,” the AEI report stated.

“Our review of research identifies four reasons why strong families are associated with economic prosperity at the state level: they boost male residents’ labor force participation and engagement in the labor force; increase economics of scale, efficiencies and saving for families; foster better educational labor force outcomes for children; and reduce the prevalence of crime and violence,” it added.

The report also offers ideas for strengthening families, including ending federal and state policies that penalize marriage by taking away benefits and instead put in place policies that would allow married couples with young children to use half of their two-parent income when applying for medical or food assistance.

The report also calls for strengthening vocational and apprentice-style education, assisting couples without drug or violence issues to avoid divorce and civic efforts to strengthen families with campaigns that encourage young people to pursue education, work, marriage and family in that order or what it calls a “success sequence.”

AEI scholar and sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, along with economists Joseph Price and Robert I. Lerman, authored the report.

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