Marriage Is the Ticket Out of Poverty

Why are some millennials more financially secure than others? The
answer has to do with individual life choices.

Americans who graduate high school, start working, get married,
and have children—in that order—are significantly less likely to fall into poverty than others. These four core life
choices, when sequenced together, provide the best path to a prosperous future.

This formula, known as “the success sequence,” is the key to both financial and general life success. Studies show that 97% of young adults who follow this sequence are more likely to work their way into the middle- or upper-income tiers by the time they reach their late 20s or 30s. 

In particular, tying the knot before having children offers the most benefits. In their study on the “success sequence,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and his colleague Wendy Wang, director of research for the Charlottesville, Virginia-based Institute for Family Studies, found that 95% of millennials who married before having children had higher family incomes than millennials who had children before marriage.

That remains true even for millennials from low-income families
and different racial backgrounds. 

Children from two-parent families are also more likely to enjoy financial security than children from single-parent families. Recent research conducted by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution suggests that the increase in child poverty between the 1970s and the 1990s was a direct result of “the decline of stable marriage” and that child poverty would be significantly lower in the United States if more Americans had strong marriages.

The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector summed it up perfectly when he said “marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon.”

With all the clear benefits of marriage, one would think Americans would eagerly jump to tie the knot. But that’s not the case: Marriage rates in America continue to plummet.

Americans are also getting married later. In recent years, the average age at first marriage for women is 27.8 years old and 29.8 for men. That’s a dramatic increase from 1960, when the average age was 20 for women and 23 for men. In addition, reports from the Urban Institute and Pew Research Center predict that a large number of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40 and that 25%, once they reach their mid-40s to 50s, are likely to have never been married. 

To that end, we should all be worried about the social and economic costs that declining marriage rates have on society. Research shows that divorce and having children out of wedlock cost taxpayers $110 billion each year. 

Regrettably, children are the ones who pay the price. Those
born into single-parent homes are more likely to experience a whole host of destructive life events, such
as dropping out of school or abusing drugs and alcohol.  The bottom line
is that we need to incentivize more marriage in America, not less. 

When it comes to policy, one way Congress can help is by
eliminating the “marriage penalty” that exists in the tax code, which taxes two
people more as a married couple than they would be taxed if they filed
individually.

That’s why I’m proud to have joined a colleague, Rep. Vicky Hartzler,
R-Mo., to introduce a bill to eliminate this “millennial marriage penalty.” The
bill would allow both spouses in a marriage to claim the $2,500 student-loan
interest deduction instead of just one. 

Fundamentally, the tax code should not financially stand in the
way of two people getting married. Strong families are the building blocks of
strong nations and Congress should do more to remove existing barriers so that
marriage is easier for more Americans.

To learn more about The Heritage Foundation’s preferred tax policies and federal education policies, check out “Four Priorities for Tax Reform 2.0.