No, Marriage Is Not a Good Way to Fight Poverty

Written by Bryce Covert

In a speech marking the 50-year anniversary of the War on Poverty meant to offer up his ideas on how to address the problem today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) laid out some new ideas, such as consolidating all federal anti-poverty programs into one agency and doing away with the Earned Income Tax Credit to instead give people “wage enhancement.” But he also offered up a very old idea: promoting marriage as a way to drastically reduce poverty:

Social factors also play a major role in denying opportunity. The truth is that the greatest tool to lift people, to lift children and families from poverty, is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage. Fifty years ago today, when the War on Poverty was launched, 93 percent of children in the United States were born to married parents. By 2010, that number had plummeted to 60 percent. It shouldn’t surprise us that 71 percent of poor families, poor families with children, are families that are not headed by a married couple.

Unfortunately for him, though, there is new evidence that marriage is not in fact the panacea for poverty that some may think. Kristi Williams, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, did some research and found that more than two-thirds of single mothers who married ended up divorced by the time they were 35 to 44. On top of that, marrying and then later divorcing leaves them worse off economically than if they had just stayed unmarried. And marriage promotion campaigns don’t seem to help. An evaluation of programs in eight cities found that they didn’t lead to a lasting improvement in marriage rates, relationship quality, or children’s economic wellbeing. On the other hand, they “resulted in modest decreases in fathers’ financial support and parental involvement,” she writes.

Yet even the marriages that last don’t end up offering women much of a lifeline. Firstly, Williams and her fellow researchers found that the pool of potential partners in low-income communities doesn’t offer single mothers many chances for finding stable partners with economic resources. “The new unions that single mothers form tend to have low levels of relationship quality and high rates of instability,” she writes. Meanwhile, those who do marry and stay together still don’t see a lot of pay off. “[W]e found no physical or psychological advantages for the majority of adolescents born to a single mother whose mothers later married,” she reports.

So what might help them? Williams points to greater access to “comprehensive and early sex education and expansive and affordable access to birth control and family planning services” to help women avoid unwanted or mistimed births. Contraception can be a potent tool in helping women achieve a higher economic status. In one study, the majority of women reported that contraception allowed them to support themselves financially, complete their education, and either keep or get a job. And family planning doesn’t just benefit mothers: it benefits their future children. Research has found that it can increase their children’s likelihood of completing college and getting a job while boosting their wages decades later. But it can also be costly, which can limit access. One in three women have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point, and more than half of young women experienced a time when they couldn’t afford to take it consistently.

But even with greater access to contraception, some women will still be single mothers. So what can we do to help them stay out of poverty? It turns out that while marriage may not offer much help, better policies could. American single mothers are worse off than their counterparts in 16 other high-income peer countries thanks to a thin social safety net. Single moms in this country have the highest rates of lacking health insurance, put up with the stingiest income support programs, have to wait longer than in other countries for early childhood education to begin, aren’t guaranteed paid time off of work for a new child or if they or their kids fall sick, and have a low rate of receiving child support. They also are much more likely to be employed in low wage work.

There are ways to solve the problems they face: universal preschool and more support for childcare could help them get to jobs and know their children have somewhere to be; raising the minimum wage would lift many out of poverty; guaranteed paid sick days would give them the ability to care for a child when he or she falls ill without losing wages or risking a job; paid family leave would mean they wouldn’t have to quitgo into debt, or go on public assistance when a new child arrives; welfare, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, could be updated so that it reaches more families and the benefits could be enhanced so that they are worth more than in 1996.

If part of Rubio’s plan is to focus on helping single mothers survive financially, there’s little evidence to back up his idea that marriage promotion is the way to go. But we may have to wait a while for him to espouse greater access to family planning and a more robust social safety net.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jauharah A.
Jauharah A.3 years ago

Marriage is not a guarantee of financial stability.

Koty Lapid
Koty Lapid4 years ago

Thank you for the information.

Devon Griffiths
Devon Griffiths4 years ago

I'm a guy and I've been in a living situation where I was stuck with someone and they were stuck with me purely for financial reasons. It is a living Hell to not be able to leave. And we didn't even have kids, nor was there any abuse. The suffocation of it alone was a nightmare. And that was really just the slightest taste of what some women, and children, have to go through.

Silver tongues can never change the fact that everything these sort of people want, is calculated to increase misery and suffering, particularly to those weaker than them. Everything. I can't think of a single exception. They want to bring Hell on Earth - spread death and poison and war and hunger, disease, hate and fear - and make us all live through it.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K4 years ago

Marriage like any relationship must be committed to or its just another panacea. Poverty is a symptom of control by those who control the wealth and resources, Its also part of the plan to bring in a new world order of slave labour and those who don't fit in to be eliminated.

Craig Tylenda
Past Member 4 years ago

The author's bias, agenda, and lack of critical thinking are quite apparent in this article. It uses many of the same dated, archaic, non-creative ideas to essentially attack one person’s opinion that they disagree with.

"....and a more robust social safety net." I believe this implies using the brute force of government to forcibly take the productivity of the citizenry in order to support someone else who may or may not have any interest in supporting otherwise. I think I will go with Rubio's ideas instead; they are far more peaceful in their approach.

benson gitonga
benson gitonga4 years ago

Not really a cure.its dependent on diverse issues.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton4 years ago

NO in this country it is cheaper to be by yourself than be with an abusive husband.