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The Roundup

Okla. Rep Offers Marriage As Antidote to Poverty

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Posted 03.19.13

The state’s Speaker of the House, Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, a proponent of using marriage to combat poverty, authored a law earlier this month to divert some Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to a marriage-promotion campaign. The law has passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate.

If the bill passes, the state government will be able to use less than 1 percent of TANF funds to air public service announcements promoting marriage as an antidote to poorness, according to a Fox23 report. Shannon, in writing the bill, quoted a report by the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation that touts marriage as “the greatest weapon against childhood poverty.” In Oklahoma, the foundation says, “marriage drops the probability of childhood poverty by 80 percent.”

Stephanie Coontz with the Council on Contemporary Families, however, argued via CNN that: “In an era when two incomes are increasingly necessary to raise a family, getting married makes excellent economic sense for a woman who wants to have a child. But first she needs to find a man who can actually make a financial contribution to the marriage—an increasingly difficult task, especially for working-class African-American women.”

As whether or not marriage can abolish poverty is being argued; statistics on marriage show a decline in participation in the institution. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that, while the teen pregnancy rate has dropped by 42 percent, the rate of birth among unwed 20-something women has increased by 27 percent between 1990 and 2008. “Indeed, 20-somethings are driving America’s all-time high level of nonmarital childbearing, which is now at 41 percent of all births, according to vital-statistics data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the paper reported. “Sixty percent of those births are to women in their 20s, while teens account for only one-fifth of nonmarital births.” More:

The shift of unmarried parenthood from teens to 20-somethings is in part an unexpected consequence of delaying marriage. Over four decades, the age for tying the knot has risen steadily to a new high of nearly 27 for women and 29 for men, according to Census figures. …

Once marriage was the foundation for adult identity, finances and family; now it has become a crowning achievement that only happens after a young adult is vocationally, psychologically and financially set.

But this model of marriage has left many less-educated, less well-off Americans without a viable life script. With manufacturing jobs and median male wages on the decline, less-skilled men are finding it ever harder to become financially “set.” Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that growing numbers of Middle Americans are postponing marriage or forgoing it altogether.

The Atlantic explains further that “the changing meaning of marriage in America, declining wages for low-skill men, and the declining costs of being a single person” have all contributed to the decline in marriage rates.

Traditional marriage consisted of more or less defined roles for husband and wife—the husband worked, and the wife stayed home with the kids. As more women work, and as wages decline for low-wage men—causing low-wage women to see marriage as a potential financial drain—the rate of marriages declines. And technology makes it possible—and perhaps easier—for women (especially) to remain single, raising their children on their own.

“The connection between Lunchables, detergent and marriage rates is not often made. But perhaps it should be,” The Atlantic reported. “The development of time-saving technologies—cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum—has not only encouraged more women to seek work, but also made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child.”


That women find themselves drifting “unintentionally” into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying creates another generation of problems. Children raised in two-parent households are more likely to go to college, more likely to be employed, and more likely to earn a high wage. Stalling at the altar might be a road more women are choosing, but evidence says that choice might point to the deepening divide between the haves and have-nots in America.