What is the “root cause” of poverty and inequalities of wealth?

The Heritage Foundation explains – it’s not what you think.


New data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show the largest increase in poverty in U.S. recorded history. Under President Obama’s watch, an additional 3.7 million Americans fell into poverty in 2009.

Buried in the Census report are startling figures revealing the principal cause of child poverty: the collapse of marriage. Single mother families are almost five times more likely to be poor than are married couples with children; overall, nearly 70 percent of poor families with children are headed by single parents.

The big secret in the Census report is that marriage is America’s number-one weapon against child poverty. But marriage has been rapidly declining in our society as the number of women who have children without being married has skyrocketed.

Historically, unwed childbearing was rare. In 1964, when the federal government launched its War on Poverty, 6.8 percent of births were to single mothers. Today, the unwed birth rate has soared to 40 percent: four of every 10 births are to a single mother. For Hispanics and African Americans, it’s significantly higher.

This trend is extremely detrimental for society. When compared to children raised by married parents, children raised by single parents are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems; be physically abused; smoke, drink, and use drugs; be aggressive; engage in violent delinquent and criminal behavior; have poor school performance; and drop out of school.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, nearly all unwed fathers are employed, and most earn enough to lift mother and child from poverty. Tragically, however, few unwed parents marry.

Many commentators will say teen pregnancy accounts for most single motherhood, but this is false. Less than 8 percent of new single moms are under 18. In fact, most unwed births are to young adult women in their 20s. The majority of unwed moms don’t have much education; most end up on welfare.

If Americans are serious about reducing poverty and getting control of federal welfare spending, we must strengthen marriage. We can do this in several ways, beginning with reducing anti-marriage penalties currently in welfare programs and providing factual information to low-income communities about the benefits of marriage.

Do you know who is pretty good on this issue? Maggie Gallagher, that’s who. She knows everything about why people should get married.


5. YOU WILL EARN MORE MONEY. Men today tend to think of marriage as a consumption item—a financial burden. But a broad and deep body of scientific literature suggests that for men especially, marriage is a productive institution—as important as education in boosting a man’s earnings. In fact, getting a wife may increase an American male’s salary by about as much as a college education. Married men make, by some estimates, as much as 40 percent more money than comparable single guys, even after controlling for education and job history. The longer a man stays married, the higher the marriage premium he receives. Wives’ earnings also benefit from marriage, but they decline when motherhood enters the picture. Childless white wives get a marriage wage premium of 4 percent, and black wives earn 10 percent more than comparable single women.

6. DID I MENTION YOU’LL GET MUCH RICHER? Married people not only make more money, they manage money better and build more wealth together than either would alone. At identical income levels, for example, married people are less likely to report “economic hardship” or trouble paying basic bills. The longer you stay married, the more assets you build; by contrast, length of cohabitation has no relationship to wealth accumulation. On the verge of retirement, the average married couple has accumulated assets worth about $410,000, compared with $167,000 for the never-married and $154,000 for the divorced. Couples who stayed married in one study saw their assets increase twice as fast as those who had remained divorced over a five-year period.

Yet another reason for fiscal conservatives to take social conservatives seriously. Marriage makes people more independent, and that means smaller government, lower taxes, and more liberty. What we need to do is block feminists from undermining marriage to serve their gender-neutral ideology, and stop socialists from undermining marriage with the welfare programs which incentivize single motherhood.

One thought on “What is the “root cause” of poverty and inequalities of wealth?”

  1. I got into a discussion with a friend on the subject of parenting and the necessity of a child having a mother and father – and I mentioned the problems you have mentioned here. His response was that poverty was the cause of the problems. When we see correlation in these cases, how do we discern which is cause and which is effect? i.e. How can we show that the collapse of marriage causes poverty and other social ills and not that poverty causes marital collapse and the other problems mentioned?

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