As millions of rose bouquets grace kitchen tables and office desks across America and dozens of chocolate delicacies are savored after candlelight dinners, card companies, jewelry stores and candy makers will be singing the praises of St. Valentine and raising their own glass of champagne to love.
But the economic benefits of celebrating lifelong love are not simply for card stores and florist shops once a year. Marriage not only pays emotional dividends as men and women commit themselves to each other, focus on their children, and face the challenges of life together. The institution that forges unique personalities and lives together in the hearth of loving commitment can also provide notable economic benefits. Married couples tend to have a higher average income, more assets, and a greater likelihood of owning their own home than families led by single adults.
Men and women aren’t the only ones to benefit from lifelong, married love. Children raised in families headed by a married couple have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity. Children living under the promise of marital commitment are six times less likely to experience poverty and can display the positive social effects of having both parents in the home, potentially avoiding the many hindrances to social mobility that tend to plague children raised in single-parent households.
Unfortunately, the personal joy and socioeconomic advantages of marriage are often lost on those who arguably need those benefits the most. With the national unwed birth rate reaching 41 percent in 2009 and almost three-quarters of African-American children alone born outside of marriage, millions of children are at risk of experiencing the financial difficulties and social challenges of living in single-parent households. The same children (and their parents) are also more likely to need government financial assistance. Of the nearly $400 billion in annual welfare funding spent on low-income families, three-quarters goes to those led by single parents.
Financial assistance alone will not help needy families avoid poverty and long-term dependence. Demonstrating the personal fulfillment of healthy relationships, which no government check can provide, and the economic benefits of marriage to low-income communities can increase the chance of self-dependency and more stable families.
Just as the greatest Valentine will not be the most expensive diamond or the richest three-course meal, the greatest gift of compassion and justice for poor families is not more money and federal handouts. It is the opportunity to learn about the emotional, social, and economic advantages of marriage and potentially share in the promises of lifelong, married love. Rather than continue a cycle of dependence with streams of anonymous government checks, policymakers can take steps to remove disincentives to marriage and demonstrate how healthy marital relationships can lead to self-sufficiency.
For example, lawmakers could remove penalties on marriage imposed by Obamacare by repealing the legislation once and for all. Obamacare could cost certain married couples upwards of $10,000 a year. Congress must immediately reduce or eliminate the welfare marriage penalties that punish low-income recipients who choose to marry. And they can work to ensure federal programs adequately explain the economic and social benefits of marriage to communities who have a high risk of having children out of wedlock.
If they do so—and President Obama’s budget released later today will offer some initial clues to the tenor of this year’s debate—our nation can experience a springtime of marriage. More personal happiness and smaller government will make a very attractive couple.