At a panel discussion on Tuesday at The Heritage Foundation, contributors to the 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity discussed what they characterized as the essential link between culture and economic opportunity.

Jennifer Marshall, the vice president of the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, said that opportunity isn’t just limited to economics, but is reliant upon strong communities and families as well.

Marshall said that promoting a culture of opportunity requires both “strong policy and the efforts of civil society.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said that “a healthy economy is built on a vibrant culture that promotes individual and social well-being.”

Sessions said that “healthy, happy families” are essential to economic growth.

Yuval Levin, a Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the editor of National Affairs, said culture “is the difference between thriving and failing.”

Levin added that conservatives are often backed into a corner during debates where they must argue about the amount that should be spent on “the liberal welfare state” rather than the role of government itself within the culture.

The proper role of government, he said, is to “protect the space where society happens.”

Robert Woodson, the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said it is in the best interest of the culture for the welfare system to be used as an “ambulance service rather than as a transportation system.”

Woodson said that during conversations about poverty in our culture, both the right and the left often oversimplify the problem. He said there are different categories of poverty—such as poverty by circumstance or disability and by choice—and each category must be addressed in any proposed solution.

Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that education reform would play a vital role in promoting opportunity in the culture. She expressed optimism that education savings accounts could contribute significantly to students’ education and well-being, thus fostering a more promising future.

Anna Egalite, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, agreed. She said that allowing parents to have a choice in their child’s education—whether through private, charter, or public schools—creates “voluntarily constructed communities,” which foster a culture of learning and accountability in schools.

The index is an annual report by The Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity focusing on issues facing civil society that have an effect on opportunity such as marriage, family, economic growth, welfare, poverty, and education.

More information about the 2015 index is available here.