Even with the hodge podge of economic incentives Virginia has had or created during the last session of the General Assembly (see Governor McDonnell talk about them in previous post), there is one sure way to guarantee prosperity. Get married, and stay that way. That is essentially the finding in a study released last month by Pew Charitable Trusts. Researchers found that family structure, and in particular the defragmenting of family through divorce, has a significant economic impact on children and their ability to rise into higher income brackets.
The study found that children of divorced parents are more likely to remain in lower income brackets as adults than children of continuously married parents. Also, while only 26 percent of children of divorce move from the lower income brackets to the middle or upper class, 50 percent of children from intact marriages are "upwardly mobile." The report concludes that while there are certainly a number of factors that determine a child's economic opportunities, family structure is high on the list.
This is not the first study that tells us marriage is good for children and that divorce has a negative impact. Social science is nearly unanimous in its conclusions in this area. On the other side of the equation, a study done in 2008 found that divorce and family fragmentation costs taxpayers in the United States $1 billion annually, and Virginians in particular pay $776 million annually in various social services because of family fragmentation.
My first response to this new study was "big surprise." After all, we have argued for years that family structure is a driving factor in economic success. My second response was, "where were all the news stories about this important research?"
Reports that come to these types of conclusions normally are dismissed by the mainstream media and "experts" as scientifically flawed or agenda driven. This time, however, perhaps because Pew Charitable Trusts has a positive reputation and the organizations involved in the study range from the Heritage Foundation on the political right to the Brookings Institution on the political left, no dismissals of the study can be found. In fact, outside one small Washington Times article and The Economist's Democracy In America Blog, no mention of the study can be found in our cursory Google search.
But regardless of the media's refusal to print the facts about marriage and divorce, the evidence continues to mount. Strong, stable marriages where couples stay together prove fertile ground for the economic success of children.
So, as Virginia's elected officials ponder how to create a better atmosphere for people to get good jobs and create more wealth — in addition to the labyrinth of Opportunity Fund Grants, tax credits and other complex corporate incentives — maybe they can learn to keep it simple, starting with policies that promote and encourage the most basic economic unit of all. Strong families.