There is a story gaining steam among some academics that suggests the institution of marriage — particularly marriage for parents of young children — could play an important role in strengthening the American economy. It is a story about growth and poverty, about responsibility and work ethic.
And largely, it is a story about men.
According to new research, states with a high concentration of married couples experience faster economic growth, less child poverty and more economic mobility than states where fewer adults are married, even after controlling for a variety of economic and demographic factors. The study, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, also finds that the share of parents who are married in a state is a better predictor of that state’s economic health than the racial composition and educational attainment of the state’s residents.
It’s impossible to say for certain, from the research, whether higher marriage levels drive economic strength, or whether strong economies drive higher marriage levels. But the researchers say there is strong evidence that the two factors reinforce each other. “There’s a reciprocal tie between strong families and strong economies,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist with ties to AEI and the Institute for Family Studies, who was the lead author on the report. “That tie goes in both directions. There’s a connection between what goes on in the home and what’s happening in the larger marketplace.”
What might be behind those links? The researchers suggest it’s the effects of marriage on men – particularly younger, lower-educated men. They believe getting married and becoming a father motivate those men to work more hours, bargain for more money and make better strategic decisions — such as drinking less and not quitting a job before another one is lined up — to improve their earning power.
“Marriage does seem to encourage men to get their act together,” Wilcox said. “They have a sense of responsibility. Their parents, their in-laws, their spouse, their neighbors and friends, all these people in their lives are expecting them to be more responsible, and they expect themselves to be more responsible.”