Using Census Bureau data, researchers Patrick Fagan and Nicholas Zill have determined that only 4 in 10 Oklahoma teenagers (ages 15 to 17) have grown up in an intact married family (i.e., with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since before or around the time of the teenager’s birth).
This is a problem not only for the children but for Oklahoma’s taxpayers and political leaders. For as the family breaks down, the government grows.
“Substance abuse, dropouts, incarceration, child poverty — all of these are symptoms of the breakdown of the family unit,” House Speaker T.W. Shannon told me in a recent interview in his office. “Why wouldn’t we do all we can to support marriage?”
This session, Shannon authored legislation redirecting a fraction (less than 1 percent) of the federal dollars Oklahoma receives as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to a public-service ad campaign trumpeting the benefits of marriage.
Consider, for example, that an Oklahoma child with married parents is 80 percent less likely to live in poverty than a child with unmarried parents.
“We have seen that dependence on government leads to poverty, addiction and human failure,” Shannon said in his speech accepting the nomination as speaker. “I have seen it, and I do not like it.”
My Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs colleague Jonathan Small concurs.
“The War on Poverty really has been a war on the family,” he says. “I have family members and friends who have personally experienced the tough choice between marriage and government welfare and all too often have chosen welfare, likely destroying their family and future generations.”
Taxpayers already fund anti-smoking and healthy-living advertising. So why not ads informing people what social science has to say about marriage?
After all, when he discovered that “being divorced and a nonsmoker is [only] slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack or more a day and staying married,” Yale biophysicist Harold Morowitz quipped. “If a man’s marriage is driving him to heavy smoking, he has a delicate statistical decision to make.”
“It’s not just that those who marry are healthier, wealthier and longer-lived,” writes OCPA research associate Tina Dzurisin. “It’s also that the children of unmarried parents are at risk for a host of social ills — problems government officials take it upon themselves to correct.”
Some Democrats don’t like Shannon’s idea (Republicans are “starving the needy” to buy radio ads, they say), but are their ideas working?
I’ve often said that, given the welfare state’s disgraceful history of eroding marriage and creating mass fatherlessness and multigenerational dependency, I’m not sure how much more of the liberals’ tender mercies we can stand.
It certainly can’t hurt to try something new.
Dutcher is vice president for policy of OCPA, a conservative think tank based in Oklahoma City.
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