I Can't Give You Anything But Love: Would Poor Couples With Children Be Better Off Economically If They Married?

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Author (Individual)
Roberts, Paula.
Author (Organization)
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
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Policymakers and researchers alike are debating whether marriage might be an antipoverty strategy for families with children. Some believe that if more parents married, there would be a substantial decrease in poverty. Others suggest that increasing the marriage rate among poor and near-poor parents, while not dramatically reducing poverty, would make a significant dent in the poverty rate for families with children. Still others are highly skeptical of these claims. This issue brief summarizes recent research bearing on the validity of these viewpoints. In particular, it reviews recent econometric studies by the Urban Institute's Robert Lerman on the economic effects of marriage on low-income couples. In brief, the work of Lerman and others suggests that even among mothers with high poverty rates and low educational attainment, marriage can have positive economic effects. Marriage can lead to lower poverty rates and less material hardship. However, being married does not eliminate poverty and material hardship. In addition, the evidence that increasing marriage would contribute to poverty reduction does not, in itself, provide guidance about which public policies or programs might result in increased marriage. Nor does it provide guidance about which policies might increase the number of healthy marriages (without inadvertently increasing the number of unhealthy ones) or which policies might support marriage without disadvantaging single-parent families. More research is needed to answer these important questions. (Author abstract)

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