How to Reverse the Decline of Marriage

Many family scholars agree that both economic and cultural factors are at work in undermining the institution of marriage. Part of the explanation may be the lack of decent paying jobs that lead working middle class couples to conclude that marriage is not feasible. Yet, couples married and stayed married during the Great Depression, so economic factors cannot fully explain the current decline in marriage. So what can be done?

This is far too complex a problem to be solved solely by passing new laws or having churches escalate their evangelization efforts. All this is needed, but much more is required. In The Marginalization of Marriage in Middle America, family scholars W. Bradford Wilcox and Andrew J. Cherlin offer several suggestions.


  • Boost training for middle-skill jobs. The auto plant jobs that used to pay good wages may be gone, but there are jobs available that will pay well if young people obtain the proper training. These jobs typically don’t require a college graduate but well-trained technicians, such as licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, x-ray technicians, and electricians.
  • Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). EITC is essentially a wage subsidy for lower income workers. It enjoys bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats as a way to reward those who enter the workforce and try to get ahead. EITC could be restructured so as not to penalize lower-income couples who marry and have a slightly better income than those who remain single for legal purposes but are cohabitating.
  • Promote marriage through marketing campaigns. Marketing campaigns have been successful in discouraging the use of tobacco, why not mount this kind of concerted public campaign on behalf of marriage.
  • Increase the Child Tax Credit. Right now parents can claim a federal income tax credit for their child dependents. One way to encourage marriage and the formation of families may be to increase the existing child credit. This could create more stable economic conditions for married couples, making marriage more attractive.
  • Better fund preschool children’s development. Young men and women who have not had a good K-12 education are not be in a position to take advantage of training opportunities for jobs such as x-ray technicians and electricians. Research shows that pre-school education is the essential first step, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
  • Reform divorce laws. The no-fault divorce laws enacted by many states in recent years may be undermining the public’s respect for the institution of marriage and weakening the commitment of couples to work out their differences. One idea would be to increase the waiting period before a couple can proceed with a divorce, as well encouraging more marriage counseling.

Obviously, none of these suggestions offer a sliver bullet solution. The larger point is that a crisis is underway and solutions are needed to revitalize marriage and family.


Posted: July 18, 2014

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