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Can government restore marriage and the family?

“Marriage is in excellent shape, but only among the well-off,” The Economist declares in a recent editorial on the state of marriage around the world. “Elite couples delay tying the knot to allow time to get established in a career, but they still tie the knot before having children.” That is, they tend to follow the Success Sequence identified by Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution: “at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.”

Just 12% of births to college-educated Americans are to unwed mothers, compared to 70% for those who dropped out of high school. Married couples are less likely to part ways after the birth of a child than unmarried couples who live together.

Governments should make sure they do not penalize marriage, says the Economist, but instead of providing tax and other benefits to encourage marriage, such as those recommended elsewhere, they should offer heterosexual couples a civil union option. “They confer nearly all the benefits of marriage but entail less of the intimidating hoopla.” Just as hose with more education and income are more likely to marry their marriages are more stable, so the marriage-lite of civil unions would seem to face the same headwinds.

Fortunately, there are non-government efforts to help more people embrace marriage. While they try, government should not make their task more difficult with good intentions.

Joseph Coletti / Senior Fellow

Joe Coletti is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation focused on fiscal policy issues. He previously headed the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform initiativ...

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