Marriage and Poverty

According to the Heritage Foundation, marriage appears to reduce adult and child poverty. Children in broken families face a higher risk of poverty through childhood, and the negative economic consequences of divorce tend to be greater for women and children than men. Marriage could lift a substantial portion of poor, even unemployed, unmarried mothers out of poverty.

The Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative think tank, contends that children in broken families face a higher risk of poverty throughout childhood. By age six, 68 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty, compared to 12 percent of children in married households. By age twelve, 78 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty compared to 18 percent of children in married households; and by seventeen, 81 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty compared to 22 percent of children in married households.

The study found that “[c]hildren in non-married households who are one year old have exceeded the risk of poverty that children in married households experience during their entire 17 years of childhood.”

After a divorce, mothers are more likely than fathers to fall into poverty. In households poor before the divorce, mothers were much more likely than fathers to fall into poverty during the first year following separation. After separating, 19 percent of mothers became impoverished, only 3 percent of the husbands became poor. Moreover, when divorce occurs among families living in poverty, mothers are less likely than fathers to rise out of poverty. Among households whose incomes fell below the official poverty line, fathers were significantly more likely to rise out of poverty than mothers in the first year following marital separation. While only one-quarter of the fathers who had been in poverty remained so after separation, three-quarters of the mothers remained in poverty.

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