Acton Institute Powerblog

The Greatest ‘Privilege’ In America? Get Married, Stay Married

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There is a lot of talk about “privilege” in our nation: white privilege, the privilege of the “1%,” privilege of living in one school district versus another. Yet, the greatest “privilege” in America is hardly ever mentioned. It’s a privilege that creates happy, healthy, smart kids, a privilege that helps ensure economic stability for everyone involved, a privilege that keeps our neighborhoods and cities safer and more productive.

It’s marriage. (I was going to say “mah-widge” and give a Princess Bride reference, but I’ll skip that.)

In yesterday’s National Review, writers Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven call the results of the “marriage privilege” startling:

In a report last year entitled “Saving Horatio Alger,” which focused on social mobility and class in America, Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution discovered that the likelihood of a child raised by parents born into the lowest income quintile moving to the top quintile by the age 40 was a disastrous 3 percent. Worse, 50 percent of those children stay stuck in the bottom quintile. And the outlook for the children of those marriage-less children is equally stark.

That’s bad news for the country, and the American dream, such numbers.

But Reeves discovered a silver lining while crunching the data: Those children born in the lowest quintile to parents who were married and stayed married had only a 19 percent chance of remaining in the bottom income group. Reeve’s study revealed that this social-mobility advantage applied not just to the lower class:

The middle class was impacted, too. The study revealed that children born into the middle class have a mere 11 percent chance of ending up in the bottom economic quintile with married parents, but that number rises to 38 percent if their parents are never married.

You’d think a finding like that would be headline news across the nation, or that the media might want to talk about the real reason for the wealth gap in America — the marriage gap.

Yet, no one in mainstream media really wants to talk about marriage as a way to fix many of the social problems facing Americans today. We’d rather “live and let live,” even at the cost of our children’s futures.

Case in point: Katy Chatel wrote recently in the Washington Post that not only was she a single mother by choice, but that “one parent can be better than two.” While Chatel does mention her child’s name once or twice in the article, I lost count of how many times she used the word “I” – clearly, Ms. Chatel’s decision to have a child wasn’t at all about the child, but about her own desires.

Being a single mom is an experience I have craved for as long as I can remember. Women who become single mothers against their desires have a different story than mine. As a young teen, I romanticized even the mundane experiences: balancing my night classes with kids’ homework and tucking them in bed (leaving on a soft light). I imagined walking, with socked feet, into our tiny living room, picking up a car or a doll from the floor and wiping oatmeal from the arm of a chair, before spreading my homework or a book I was writing on our table. Raising children alone didn’t seem like a struggle to avoid, but rather an exciting opportunity to come up with creative and clever solutions for daily living.

I want to devote myself to motherhood, something I fear I can’t do with the additional demands of a partnership. Romantic relationships can occupy a lot of mental and emotional energy. I’m not sure I could balance being both a solid partner and mother right now.

I’m not sure Ms. Chatel is clear as to how much “mental and emotional energy” a child requires, but best of luck to her. She’ll need it, and unfortunately, so will her child.

Back to Habeeb and Leven, who quote Brad Wilcox’s work on marriage as “social capital.”

Children raised in a stable, intact family are much more likely to benefit from the time, attention, and money of two parents. They are more likely to thrive in school, to steer clear of encounters with the police, to avoid having a teenage pregnancy, to graduate from college, and to be gainfully employed as an adult.

We should continue to combat racism, poorly administered schools and inadequate school choice, and work to provide communities with the tools to thrive economically. But we should also start fixing the one “privilege” gap that is easiest to fix: get married, stay married.

Read “Why Won’t Liberals Talk about the Most Important Kind of ‘Privilege’ in America?” at National Review.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

Comments

  • Marc

    Great article with some excellent statistics. However, the conclusion to get married and stay married is not a very easy thing to do as our culture doesn’t promote it. We need to promote the best sex is married sex. The happiest kids are in married homes, etc…

  • eriks

    Maybe there’s something here, but I think articles like these that suggest simple correlations describe complex phenomenon need to dig a little deeper. It really doesn’t add up that a single mother can change the fortunes of her children simply by getting married and changing nothing else. What makes more sense is that marriage is more likely when other positive attributes are found: responsibility, healthy lifestyle, steady income, etc.

  • Elijah2015

    Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
    Because you have rejected knowledge,
    I also will reject you from being My priest.
    Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.

  • Michelle Branson

    This proves less about staying married and more about the kind of people the parents are. Healthier better people often stay married longer than selfish unhealthy ones. What good is a married miserable Mom and Dad.