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Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages.

Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages. Two experts not connected to the study said such programs are of dubious merit and suggested that other investments — notably job creation — would be more effective in aiding all types of needy families.

There have been previous attempts to calculate the cost of divorce in America. But the sponsors of the new study, being released Tuesday, said theirs is the first to gauge the broader cost of “family fragmentation” — both divorce and unwed childbearing.

The study was conducted by Georgia State University economist Ben Scafidi. His work was sponsored by four groups who consider themselves part of a nationwide “marriage movement” — the New York-based Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Families Northwest of Redmond, Washington, and the Georgia Family Council, an ally of the conservative ministry Focus on the Family.

“The study documents for the first time that divorce and unwed childbearing — besides being bad for children — are costing taxpayers a ton of money,” said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values.

“We keep hearing this from state legislators, ‘Explain to me why this is any of my business? Aren’t these private matters?”‘ Blankenhorn said. “Take a look at these numbers and tell us if you still have any doubt.”

Scafidi’s calculations were based on the assumption that households headed by a single female have relatively high poverty rates, leading to higher spending on welfare, health care, criminal justice and education for those raised in the disadvantaged homes. The $112 billion estimate includes the cost of federal, state and local government programs, and lost tax revenue at all levels of government.

Reducing these costs, Scafidi said, “is a legitimate concern of government, policymakers and legislators.”

While the study doesn’t offer formal recommendations, it does suggest that state and federal lawmakers consider investing more money in programs intended to bolster marriages. Such a program has been in place in Oklahoma since 2001; Texas last year earmarked about $15 million in federal funds for marriage education.

“Because of the very large taxpayer costs associated with high rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, and the modest price tags associated with most marriage-strengthening initiatives … programs even with very modest success rates will be cost-effective,” the study says.

But Tim Smeeding, an economics professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, who was not involved in the study, said he’s seen no convincing evidence that the marriage-strengthening programs work.

“I have nothing against marriage — relationship-building is great,” he said. “But alone it’s not going to do the job. A full-employment economy would probably be the best thing — decent, stable jobs.”

He also noted the distinctive problems arising in black urban areas where the rate of single-mother households is highest.

“A high number of African-American men have been in prison — that limits their future earning potential and makes them bad marriage partners, regardless of what kind of person they are,” Smeeding said. “A marriage program doesn’t address that problem at all.”

Another expert not connected to the study, University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock, suggested that bigger investments in education would pay long-term dividends — improving economic prospects even for children from fragmented, disadvantaged families.

“Providing a global number doesn’t give us anything to go on,” said Smock, who was skeptical of the study’s $112 billion estimate.

“We’re now nearing 40 percent of kids in America born out of wedlock,” she said. “I can’t fathom that those marriage programs, even with increased investment, are going to reduce that.”

Blankenhorn said it was “fair criticism” to note that the study made multiple references to marriage-strengthening programs while not proposing other strategies for reducing the cost of family fragmentation.

“Maybe we should have been more ecumenical,” he said. “Let everybody have their say. Let’s try things out. … Nobody knows exactly the strategies which are going to work.”

Miss NJ:  Whenever I see stuff like this, I know it’s just a disguised attack on single motherhood.  The highlighted part should adequately explain why the results mean nothing: they were based on an assumption.  It is a fact that single parent households headed by women are more likely to be below the poverty line than above it, but much of that has to do with the inability of most single mothers to get safe quality childcare that is also affordable.  Perhaps these same people need to stop telling women they need to be married to support their families and start helping single mothers do that for themselves.  Like the guy in the article said, money would be better spent on job creation.

BK Diva:  I want to know how much money they used for this study!!  Millions wasted!!  The only way to uplift disadvantaged homes is buy providing employment, quality affordable child care & education.



  1. This study sounds valid to me. It’s not a slam on single motherhood; quite the opposite. It’s a statement that we as a society should do everything possible to prevent single parenthood, because that’s what’s best for the children — that is, it is best when they live in a home with their married mom and dad. Single moms seem to get offended so easily when someone says that, but the research shows it’s true. Lot’s of research. But relax, moms, that doesn’t mean you’re not a good parent — most single moms work extremely hard to do everything they can for their kids. But of all the things you can do and be for your children, there’s one thing you just cannot be: their father. You’ve made your decisions — whether to marry the wrong guy then divorce or have sex outside of marriage — and now you and your children must deal with the consequences. But what about the next generation? What if they could be taught that a little restraint, some priority setting and vision casting, and holding onto their values (not to mention their virginity) would go a LONG way toward reducing the phenomenon of single parenthood that causes so much suffering.

  2. Why is it that the woman makes all the bad choices: “marry the wrong guy then divorce” or “have sex outside of marriage”? Why is the onus of maintaining a traditional family placed on women? When are men going to be held responsible for their actions/inactions? These babies are not made alone.

    You, like the study’s authors, seem to think that if women got their act together (by getting married) then all the family ills will magically be reduced. That is not true. Especially if the fathers aren’t willing to make the requisite sacrifices.

    Finally, an important fact about Black single parenthood was pointed out that all the “Save Marriage” campaigns will never help. Most Black men are not good marriage partners. They cannot get jobs that allow them to support a family. Thus, most Black women are better off being single parents because then they are not dragged down by their child’s father’s baggage. This doesn’t mean these aren’t good men and good father material, they just aren’t husband material. Perhaps if we worked to reduced some of the prejudices against ex-cons (all ex-cons), we could also go along way to helping the problem.

    At the end of the day, “Just Say Yes” works about as well as “Just Say No.” If you want to chagne behaviors, you have to change people’s motivations and just talking at someone doesn’t do that.

  3. Miss NJ — You make a great point. Yes, yes, yes, men need to take responsibility for their actions! I did not mean to lay the onus completely at the feet of women. Unwed pregnancy is not a female issue, it’s just that they are the ones usually left caring for the baby.

    One big issue unaddressed in your coments is this: If women know that men are not marrying material, AND if they know that children are best served by being raised in a home with BOTH a mom AND dad, then why participate in activity that makes babies who won’t have a father? That says, “But I really want/need to have sex outside of marriage; that’s what’s most important,” or “But I want to be a mommy!” What about what the kid wants, needs, DESERVES? Parenting should not occur at the selfish whim of adults. Kids are not dolls to be collected because we enjoy the way they make us feel: needed, loved, appreciated.

    But a new trend has to start somewhere. Let’s train kids what true relationship means, and the joys and benefits of a lifelong marriage commitment. Let’s start when they are young and perhaps a few in the next generation will “get it” and provide an example for those coming along behind them. Men, you’ve got to step up and be “real men” — take responsibility for your actions rather than acting like breeding animals in heat (I know, it’s the female animal that goes into heat, but…). Women are not objects to pursue, conquer and have sex with. They deserve love, caring and respect. That’s the start of something that could be the most rewarding experience of your life.

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