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The State Of Our Unions: Is Divorce Bad For The Economy?

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Is divorce hurting the economy?

According to "The State of Our Unions," a recent study released by the National Marriage Project assessing the health of marriage in the country, the loss of stable, successful marriages undermines the financial health of the nation. Citing a 2002 study called "Does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and Wealth Outcomes Among Preretirement Adults," the report suggested that marriage offers "surprising economic benefits," while also noting that divorce is "very costly" to the public.

The 2002 study compared those who had been continuously married throughout adulthood to their counterparts who had not. The results: those who never marry suffer a reduction in wealth of 75 percent, and those who divorced and didn't remarry, a reduction of 73 percent.

Projecting these views even wider, the "State Of Our Unions" study argued that marriage actually has an enormous impact on the national economy. They extracted this conclusion from the fact that the growth of median family income, after more than doubling between 1947 and 1977, has slowed in recent years. "Married couples, who fare better economically than their single counterparts," notes the study, "Have been a rapidly decreasing proportion of total families."

Divorce, according to their figures, has an equally strong effect on the economy. Citing the court costs, as well as welfare, food stamps, public housing and increased bankruptcy, the study warned of divorce's economic threat. "65% of the cases that Georgia deals with are related to family stuff," said W. Brad Wilcox, the editor of the study, noting further that one estimate had the annual cost of divorce at $120 billion.

But the issue of whether divorce has an economic impact is not quite as simple as it seems. "Is the problem divorce, or is it all the things that happen when divorce happens?" Stacy J. Rogers, a professor of sociology at Penn State, and a co-author on the book Alone Together: How Marriage in America is Changing. "Maybe we should be supporting single mothers."

Ann Crittenden, Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of The Price of Motherhood, seemed to agree that while divorce is indeed costly to the state, the real problem lies in the outcomes of divorce. "Divorce is one of the great creators of poverty," she said. "Divorce courts ought to seek an equal standard of living measure after divorce, for a period, especially while kids are young."

Indeed, the victims of divorce seem to be the children. When citing the costs of divorce, "The State Of Our Unions" points to elevated levels of delinquency in those children coming out of "broken" homes. Kay S. Hymowitz, the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, concurred that in terms of economic harm, it's the future generation we should look to when we worry about the results of divorce. "The way that you get ahead in this country, and the source of economic mobility is the socialization of children," she said. "Kids who are socialized to ...[not get pregnant], to perform well in school, to put a lot of emphasis on their education, will thrive."