Marriage is not an antidote to poverty

It is true that single parenthood is associated with poverty, especially in the United States, where single mothers find it hard to work full time or further their education because they lack affordable child care. But nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than a cause. Unemployment, low wages and poverty discourage family formation and erode family stability, making it less likely that individuals will marry in the first place and more likely that their marriages will dissolve.

The claim that single motherhood is currently the biggest obstacle to success in America is particularly wrong-headed, because the claim is almost 30 years out of date. Rising rates of unwed motherhood did contribute to increases in the percentage of low-income and poverty-level families in America from 1975 to 1995. But since then, the majority of the increase in family inequality has been because of growing economic insecurity in groups of people who have the same family structure.

Almost 36% of American’s impoverished children — 5.9 million kids — live with married parents. If we include low-income families — people who are just one missed pay check, one illness or one divorce away from poverty — the figure rises to nearly 50%.