Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

When my wife and I were first married, we had some tough times, just like many married couples. Our budget was often in the deficit column before we even began the month! As much as we were in love, money, or the lack of it, tried to consume our relationship. However, with God’s help, we were able to use these times to build communication and strengthen our united resolve to press on to better times.

February 7th through 14th is National Marriage Week, a movement begun in the mid-1990s in the United Kingdom. Soon it spread to continental Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. Its aim is “to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture, which in turn helps curtail poverty and bssenefits children.”

You would think these goals would be pretty non-controversial, and in one sense they are. Almost no one disputes that children raised by married parents are better off in almost every measurable way than those who are raised by single parents. This holds true for academic achievement, emotional health and likelihood of avoiding criminal behavior. Studies have also consistently demonstrated that children with married parents are far less likely to be poor than the children of single parents.

A recent report released by the Council for Contemporary Families (CCF), however, asserts that low marriage rates among the poor are not a cause but a symptom. Writing in the Atlantic, Emily Badger summarizes their argument: “Fractured family structures don't cause poverty. Poverty causes these family structures.” The CCF report is essentially asserting that children raised by married parents are not better off because their parents are married; they claim that their parents married in the first place because they were better off.

This is absurd for several reasons. First of all, according to US Census data, the black marriage rate was actually higher than the white marriage rate from 1890 to 1940. During this time—the height of the Jim Crow era when many blacks were sharecroppers or laborers—the economic standard of living for blacks was undoubtedly worse than it is today. If poverty indeed causes “fractured family structures,” why was the black marriage rate so much higher when poverty was so much more severe? For that matter, why did slaves go out of their way to marry in secret, even when their marriages were forbidden by law?

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.