The Truth about Marriage and Poverty

Join in National Marriage Week

One of the best ways you and your church can fight poverty is to work for healthy marriages. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.

Listen Now | Download

Eric Metaxas

February 7 through 14 is National Marriage Week—“a collaborative campaign to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture, which in turn helps curtail poverty and benefits children.”

Count me in! And I hope you and your church will take part as well.

Longtime BreakPoint listeners have heard a great deal about the personal benefits of marriage in terms of health and happiness. And of course, children do better by nearly every measure in intact families.

But marriage’s benefits go beyond the personal—society itself benefits from strong marriages. daily_commentary_01_24_14Especially in the economic area.

We've heard a great deal lately about the growing economic divide and economic inequality. What we don’t hear enough about is the role that family formation—or more to the point, the lack of family formation—plays in this divide. The Brookings Institution, a moderate-to-liberal Washington think tank, has estimated that poverty rates would be 25 percent lower if marriage rates were the same today as they were in 1970!

Sadly, they’re not. In 1970, 84 percent of all U.S.-born 30-to-44-year olds were married. Today the percentage is below 60 percent. According to Bowling Green State University, “Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent.”

What’s even worse is that the decline of marriage has been most pronounced amongst the most vulnerable segments of the population: the less-affluent and least-well-educated. This vulnerability was the subject of a recent article at the Atlantic Monthly’s website. The title of the article says it all: “Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, But Poor Women Can’t.”

As the author, Emma Green, wrote, “For a poor woman, deciding whether to get married or not will be a big part of shaping her economic future.”

Indeed, especially if children are involved. As National Marriage Week USA Executive Director, my friend Sheila Weber wrote for Fox News, there is a “2 percent chance of poverty if you finish high school, work full time, and postpone marriage and childbearing until age 21.  If you don’t do these three things, there is a 77 percent chance of poverty.”

Thus, while for more affluent women, “deciding whether to get married is a choice about independence, [and] lifestyle,” for poorer women, it’s a choice that goes a long way toward their and their children’s future.

To be clear, marriage isn’t a “silver bullet.” It’s not a cure-all for poverty. But it’s an important weapon in our battle against poverty and even inequality: as a 2012 Heritage Foundation study put it, “The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high-school diploma or less."

None of this is debatable—the social science data on the link between marriage and poverty is overwhelming. It’s just inconvenient for those who are wed—pun intended—to a narrative that values independence and freedom. Not coincidentally, these folks also belong to the class that is least affected by the decline of marriage.


As Christians, we're called to love our neighbor and to pray for the welfare of our communities. For the benefit of all, we need to get the truth about marriage out. And that’s why National Marriage Week is so important.

There’s still time to get your church involved. Please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary and we’ll link you to National Marriage Week USA.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_012414The Truth about Marriage and Poverty: Join in National Marriage Week

Join the fight against poverty by helping to strengthen marriages. Be a part of National Marriage Week and sign up your church as a participant. Get the truth about marriage out!


National Marriage Week USA website
February 7-14, 2014

Here’s a secret: Marriage is America’s most effective anti-poverty program
Sheila Weber | FOX News | February 13, 2013

Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, but Poor Women Can’t
Emma Green | The Atlantic | January 15, 2014

Women, Men, and the New Economics of Marriage
Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn | Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends | January 19, 2010


Mr Metaxis,

I would stand with you 100% in terms of the importance of traditional marriage in our country. However, while you and your colleagues on the ‘religious right’ (my apologies if that identification is incorrect) will point to a Biblical fundamental - here, marriage, and quite rightly so - in relation to poverty, their silence on other Biblical principles even more directly related to poverty is absolutely staggering.

They will quite happily attack, or at least disparage, any kind of ‘socialism’, yet robustly defend the entirely unscriptural principle of the largely unfettered ‘free market’. in any discussion on poverty and inequality, rarely do we hear any reference to the God given restrictions on a capital-based economic system, which are well documented in Deuteronomy 15 and many other passages, and which were given expressly to minimise and ideally eradicate extreme poverty from the land. The Prophets later referred specifically to the social injustices which resulted in Israel’s exile, as much as idolatry, when these commands for economic justice were ignored.

Let’s by all means tell the Biblical truth about marriage and its many benefits - indeed lets trumpet it! But let’s not, for the sake of not upsetting “Cultural Christian America” be less than truthful in our voluntary silence and selectivity in these issues.
Marriage and Adult finances
Good morning Mr. Metaxis,
I heard your report this morning regarding the effect of marriage on economics- specifically benefits to children. Thank you but I believe you are missing a critical sector of society who also choose not to marry in order to gain benefit...no, maintain benefit. Who are they? They many adults over the age of 40, whereby one is receiving public benefits(Social Security Disability or the like). The United States government punishes its citizens by making them ineligible for SSI/SSD entitlements base on marital status. Thus, couples choose not to legally marry because their livelihood, their ability to afford decent housing, food, transportation, medical care and other essential needs can not be met. How is Breakpoint dealing that real issue? Many of the States discourage marriage in their reducing eligibility for welfare benefits to married couples that need assistance. What do you say about that? And does not matter whether the couples have children or not? Legal in the economic realm is a dark and glooming place in the minds of those who face poverty every day.

Respectfully submitted,