Truth is the beginning of wisdom…

As costly as the breakdown of the family is to children, divorce and unwed parenting cost U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion annually according to a study released April 15th. When calculated, the national, state and local costs add up to more than $1 trillion over the last decade. This is caused, in part, by high poverty rates of single, female-headed households, which lead to higher spending on welfare, criminal justice and education programs.

Unfortunately, as the report documents, there are fewer healthy marriages in America now than there were 25 years ago. Between 1970 and 2005, the percentage of children being raised in two-parent families dropped from 85 to 68 percent.

“This study documents for the first time that divorce and unwed childbearing – besides being bad for children – are also costing taxpayers a ton of money,” said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, which is associated with the study.

The principal causes of this drop were the high divorce rate and the increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births. While the number of divorces has declined slightly in recent years, the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers has continued to grow. The costs of this family fragmentation are not limited to the children. As one expert wrote, “Divorce and unwed childbearing create substantial public costs, paid by taxpayers.”

As this information emerges, it is not new news to the church – and really to society, if they would stop and take a serious look at the condition of the family in America today. If both society and the church, seeing the necessity of the family unit, would join forces and work together a huge difference could be made, that not only would be good for the family, but for all America as well.

We certainly can be doing more to help marriages and families succeed. We could invest money for marriage education and other programs to increase marriage stability as Texas recently did. They have just invested $15 million over two years and their calculations were that if they only had a 1% success rate it would save $30 million per year.

Even if you set aside the social, cultural, and moral dimensions of marriage, it is clear that government should have a vital interest in promoting healthy marriages. Healthy marriages produce people who are better able to take care of themselves and their families. Even modest increases in the number of “stable marriages” could save taxpayers a lot of money. While we will never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.

The most important thing government can do to fight family fragmentation is to stop promoting marriage substitutes. A decline in marriage and an increase in family fragmentation coincides with the introduction of legally sanctioned substitutes for traditional marriage (like civil unions and, now, same-sex marriages). These substitutes are dangerous and counterproductive as they inevitably weaken and destabilize the legitimate family that is based on matrimony. Even the best “marriage-strengthening” program can not compete with the message “marriage doesn’t matter.”

The bottom line … if we want to make a dent in the social and economic costs of family fragmentation, the first order of business is to promote and strengthen traditional marriage and accept no substitutes.

Together our community and our churches need to invest in things that would strengthen marriage!