Marriage in America is in serious trouble. More Americans are cohabitating, fewer are marrying, and if they do wed it is at a much later age than previous generations. Although divorce rates have declined slightly over the past 20 years, pervasive no-fault divorce laws allow marital dissolution to continue plaguing American communities. Four out of 10 children are now born outside of marriage, increasing government dependence by leaving thousands more children without the social and economic stability of married households.
Given the profound impact of intact, married families on child well-being, efforts to encourage and strengthen marriage are urgently needed. Just as the U.S. formulated a plan to help European countries recover after World War II, national leaders should implement a new Marshall Plan – one that rebuilds American homes and restores a culture of marriage. In a new Heritage paper, Senior Research Fellow Chuck Donovan describes the state of marriage in America and outlines a number of principles national leaders can follow to better encourage and support stable families:
- Eliminate marriage penalties from federal programs. Married couples tend to be better off financially than their single or cohabitating counterparts. Policymakers should encourage such beneficial economic decisions by removing financial disincentives to marriage from tax and welfare policies.
- Encourage pro-marriage messaging in existing government programs and other resources. Repurposing existing government initiatives and grant programs to promote strong marriages and initiating media campaigns that encourage matrimony can expand public awareness of marriage’s social and economic benefits.
- # 3 Implement state-driven divorce reform that encourages reconciliation. The cost of divorce to taxpayers and communities is high. States should reform existing divorce laws to recognize and accommodate the many divorcing couples who are open to counseling and reconciliation efforts.
- Study, recognize, and reward success in marriage. Given the significant cost savings to taxpayers when marriages succeed, national leaders should find new ways to acknowledge success in marriage and recognize the power of civic leadership in publicly extolling the many benefits of marriage.
The nation’s leaders must make a concerted effort to address family dissolution and marital breakdown. As Donovan concludes, “Halting and reversing the sustained trends of nearly four decades will not happen by accident. The nation needs to forge a fresh American consensus that rescuing marriage – a Marshall Plan to rebuild shattered American homes – is a matter of the highest national priority.”
Read more about the need for a Marshall Plan for Marriage and what national leaders can do to restore a culture of marriage.
To track policy updates on family and religion, subscribe to the Richard and Helen DeVos Center’s weekly newsletter, Culture Watch.