October 21, 2011 Print

Study: Marriage and Childbearing Impact Economy

by Karla Dial

An international study, titled “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend,” shows why getting married, staying married and having kids helps society. Coauthor Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, explains.

1. What does marriage have to do with the economy?

Marriage plays a key role in equipping kids with the skills and contacts they need to thrive in the marketplace. We know kids who come from married intact families are more likely to graduate from high school, to graduate from college, and to go on and be productive members of the workforce.

Men in particular are more likely to work harder, to work smarter, and to work longer hours and make more money after they get married, assuming they stay married. If you take Joe and Dave from equivalent backgrounds — if Joe gets married and Dave does not, over time, Joe will earn about 20 percent more than will Dave. That means when more men are married, you have more men making an important contribution to a larger economy.

2. How do fertility rates impact the economy?

Many countries — particularly in East Asia, and Europe, countries like South Korea, Spain and Italy — have for a very long time been in what we call sub-replacement rates, where (couples) have fewer than two children on average. That is now posing big problems for their long-term economic futures, because they don’t have enough workers to pay for things like public pensions and retirement for the elderly population. What happens in the home doesn’t stay in the home — it gets built out, for better or worse, into a larger economy.

3. Why do married men work harder?

Marriage is still a public status. Men respond to some kind of status concern. They want to prove to themselves and others that they’re worthy of being a good husband. When men are tasked with the responsibility, financially, of providing for a wife and kids, they will rise to the occasion. That’s going to happen when they’re married, not when they’re having kids outside of marriage.

4. What do nations need to do if they’re not headed in the right direction?

One of the things we point to is a plan in Finland where they give parents care-giving credits. Parents can use those credits to stay at home, have a babysitter, whatever they want. That has increased the number of moms staying home and the fertility rate, which had been below replacement. This program doesn’t penalize families who want to have a stay-at-home parent. On marriage, we recommend that companies like Northwestern Mutual — because people are more likely to buy life insurance after they get married than in any other situation — or Krogers, one of the nation’s biggest grocery chains — people spend more money on groceries when they get married and have kids — recognize they have a bottom-line interest in Americans getting married and having children. Given that, they should align their corporate giving with ministries and nonprofits working to strengthen the American family.

5. What role does religion play in all this?

Religion also fosters higher marital stability and more fertile families, so we encourage governments around the world to give their own religious institutions the liberties to preach what they believe, recognizing they provide important resources that help fuel strong families.

Learn more about “The Sustainable Demographic Dividend: What Do Marriage & Fertility Have to Do With the Economy?” or order a copy.

The study was produced by the National Marriage Project, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, Universidad de Los Andes in Chile, University of Asia and the Pacific in the Philippines, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya in Spain, Universidad de la Sabana in Colombia and Universidad de Piura in Peru.