Marriage is a fundamental social institution. As an institution, marriage is the foundation of a harmonious and enriching family life and the basic building block of our society. As the cornerstone of the family, marriage produces children; provides children with mothers and fathers; and produces many social, economic, and health benefits for children, adults, and society generally. By most measures, marriage helps keep children out of poverty. But should governments be involved in promoting marriage? If government-funded initiatives could promote healthy marriages, child poverty would almost certainly decline. But it's not clear that the proposed programs will prompt more couples to marry, and if they do, whether the resulting marriages will be stable.
On one side is the 'marriage movement' a loose group of conservatives, religious leaders, and social scientists who want to strengthen the institution of marriage. Some of them advocate marriage because they are morally certain that it provides the best kind of family.
Others, including most of the social scientists in this camp, favor it because they believe children's well-being would improve if more of their parents were married.
"Now we're looking at marriage in a new way: as a public health education issue," says Diane Sollee, the director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education in Washington. It's inarguable that decades of rising divorce rates and the increase in children born to unwed mothers have had a profound effect on family formation in the US. Between 1960 and 1995, the percentage of children living with only one parent rose from around 12 percent to 27 percent. This, in turn, has had a major impact on government antipoverty programs. Today more than 75 percent of all federal aid to kids, provided through such programs as food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, and Temporary Assistance to...