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Married couples across the country will commemorate St. Valentine’s Day today by exchanging cards and flowers and raising a glass to love. But marriage also provides a host of social, economic, and even health benefits.

As research on Heritage’s demonstrates, married families tend to have better financial health, increased savings, and greater social mobility than unmarried households. Married couples also tend to have a higher average income, more assets, and a greater likelihood of owning their own homes than families led by single adults.

Tying the knot can likewise have a profoundly positive effect on men’s and women’s psychological well-being, stress levels, and smoking habits. Marriage is even associated with lower mortality rates.

Children raised in families headed by a married couple have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity. Teens from intact, married families are less likely to be sexually active and also less likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, exhibit poor social behaviors, or participate in violent crimes. Consistent parental involvement, especially from fathers, is also related to decreased likelihood of teen pregnancy.

Sadly, fewer Americans are experiencing these personal and social benefits of marriage as the nation’s marriage rate continues to decline and more men and women exchange the commitment of matrimony for the loose bonds of cohabitation.

The many benefits of marriage are arguably being lost on the very people who need marriage’s financial and emotional stability the most. With more than four out of every 10 children born outside of marriage, millions of children are being left at risk of experiencing the financial and social challenges facing single-parent households.

The same children (and their parents) are also more likely to need government financial assistance. Of the more than $450 billion spent on means-tested welfare for low-income families with children, roughly three-quarters goes to households led by single parents.

Just as the greatest Valentine’s Day gift is not the most expensive diamond or the richest three-course meal, the greatest gift of compassion and justice for poor families is not more money and federal handouts. It is the opportunity to learn about the emotional, social, and economic advantages of marriage and to potentially share in the promises of lifelong, married love.

Rather than continue a cycle of dependence with streams of anonymous government checks, policymakers can take steps to remove disincentives to marriage and demonstrate how healthy marital relationships can lead to self-sufficiency.