Family Fact of the Week: Marriage Is the Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty

Rachel Sheffield /

New research shows that marriage is the nation’s best antidote to child poverty. This holds true in every state across the country.

On Wednesday, The Heritage Foundation introduced a new web page illustrating how marriage protects against child poverty. The new web page features 14 charts, a new Special Report for the U.S. as a whole, and charts and research for each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

For example, the research shows that U.S. children in married-parent families are 82 percent less likely to be poor than are their peers in single-parent homes. Similar statistics hold true for California (marriage drops the poverty rate by 74 percent), Wyoming (87 percent), Illinois (85 percent), and Connecticut (91 percent). (Article continues below chart.)

Marriage Poverty – United States from The Heritage Foundation

The dramatic increase in unwed births and marriage’s protecting factor against poverty is rarely if ever addressed in discussions of anti-poverty policy.

But today, the rate of unwed childbearing is at historic highs, with more than 40 percent of children born to single women each year. While the rate varies from state to state, each has experienced dramatic increases in unwed births over the last five decades.

In every state, the majority of these births occur to women with a high school education or less. For example, in Kentucky, roughly 65 percent of births to women with less than a high school education are outside of marriage. In contrast, less than 7 percent of births to college-educated women are unwed births. In Kentucky, as in all states, marriage’s protection against poverty holds true across education levels.

On average, in the U.S. as a whole marriage reduces the poverty rate by 76 percent among families with the same level of education. For example, married-parent families in which the head of the household is a high school dropout is less likely to be poor than a single-parent family in which the head of household has had some college.

While unwed childbearing is often perceived as a teen issue, most unwed births are not actually to high school-age young women. In fact, less than 10 percent of births to single mothers are to those under age 18. Rather, the vast majority are to women in their 20s.

Sadly, the U.S. does little to discourage unwed childbearing or promote healthy marriage. In fact, many welfare programs contain marriage penalties. Yet research shows that most unwed parents value marriage.

The high rate of unwed childbearing contains many implications—economic and otherwise—for children, families, and the nation. At all levels of government, policies should build on the pro-marriage attitudes of unwed parents by supporting policies that promote and strengthen healthy marriage.

For more information on how marriage protects against child poverty, visit