NASHVILLE, Tenn. Being raised in a married family reduces a child's probability of living in poverty by more than 80 percent, according to a report by The Heritage Foundation which found the chief cause of child poverty is the absence of married fathers in the home.
"Some of this difference in poverty is due to the fact that single parents tend to have less education than married couples, but even when married couples are compared to single parents with the same level of education, the married poverty rate will still be more than 75 percent lower," Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, wrote.
"Marriage is a powerful weapon in fighting poverty. In fact, being married has the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent's level of education has," Rector wrote in "Marriage: America's Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty," released Sept. 5.
In 2010, only 59 percent of all births in the United States were to married couples, the report said. Out-of-wedlock births often are confused with teen pregnancy and births, Rector noted. But few out-of-wedlock births occur to teenagers. Three-quarters of out-of-wedlock births in 2008 in the United States were to women between the ages of 19 and 29.
"The decline in marriage and growth in out-of-wedlock births is not a teenage issue; it is the result of a breakdown in relationships between young adult men and women," Rector wrote.
The United States is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line, he wrote. On average, high school dropouts who are married have a far lower poverty rate than single parents with one or two years of college, Rector reported.
In 2011, federal and state governments spent more than $450 billion on welfare for low-income families with children, the report said. About three-quarters of that money went to single-parent families.
"Most non-marital births are currently paid for by the taxpayers through the Medicaid system, and a wide variety of welfare assistance will continue to be given to the mother and child for nearly two decades after the child is born," Rector wrote. "On average, the means-tested welfare costs for single parents with children amount to around $30,000 per household per year."
As a solution, Rector said it is reasonable for government to take active steps to strengthen marriage.
"Just as government discourages youth from dropping out of school, it should provide information that will help people to form and maintain healthy marriages and delay childbearing until they are married and economically stable," Rector wrote. "In particular, clarifying the severe shortcomings of the 'child first, marriage later' philosophy to potential parents in lower-income communities should be a priority."
For more information, visit www.heritage.org.