Maggie Gallagher
When parents are married, children do better and so do taxpayers. Nobody really contests the point anymore, which is why critics of President Bush's modest marriage initiative (part of the re-authorization of the welfare reform bill now debated in Congress) are reduced to what I call The Argument of Despair.

Sure, marriage is better for kids and for parents, too. Sure, taxpayers shell out a bundle to deal with the consequences of family fragmentation -- everything from poverty programs (welfare, food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid) to crime control, foster care, drug abuse and child support enforcement.

But unfortunately, there is just Nothing We Can Do.

Nonsense. Bush plans to use a tiny fraction of surplus welfare dollars to fund marriage education services for at-risk couples. Such programs may help reduce divorce, and they also appear to reduce domestic violence -- a no-brainer two-fer. Here are two more simple ideas the Department of Health and Human Services could easily implement (from a larger National Fatherhood Initiative policy brief I just completed. E-mail me for an e-copy at Maggieiav@aol.com).

1. Add an explicit marriage message to government-funded teen pregnancy programs. You may think the government already does this. Alas, most teen pregnancy prevention programs focus on age alone, not marital status, as the key risk factor. Avoiding early childbearing is good. Avoiding early unwed childbearing is even better.

Girls and young women with positive attitudes toward unmarried childbearing are five time more likely to end up young, unwed mothers. The vast majority of Americans of all ethnic and social groups believe that teen-agers should delay pregnancy until marriage. Yet the majority of teens currently approve of unmarried childbearing, putting them at high risk.

A new generation of teen pregnancy programming should adopt an explicit marriage message to teens: Delay pregnancy until you are grown, educated and married.

2. Fund (and evaluate) divorce education programs to reduce unnecessary divorce. Half of all U.S. counties have court-connected divorce programs, many of them mandatory. But current programs have limited goals: reducing litigation and acrimony. Why not find out what kind of divorce education facilitates reconciliation as well?


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.