United States

A healthy marriage

©US Government

Perhaps the most remarkable development in US social policy under President Bush has been a renewed commitment to support marriage. Spurred by the president's announcement in 2002 to provide financial support for innovative programmes aimed at reducing child poverty and increasing child well-being, the Healthy Marriage Initiative seeks to help couples who have chosen marriage for themselves, gain voluntary access to marriageeducation services, where they can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage.
This is a significant shift in US social policy, given that since the 1960s, the government has largely ignored marriage, and perhaps even unintentionally undermined it. A large body of social science research over the past 20 years that documents the benefits of healthy marriage to children, adults and society supports that shift.While the emotional and psychological benefits of healthy marriage are well known, research consistently finds that marriage and the family are foundational institutions that profoundly affect the economy. Our language even affirms this connection, as economy and household originate from the same Greek word, oikos.How do healthy marriages boost the economy? Every marriage creates a new household, an economic unit that generates income, spends, saves and invests. The household typically includes children, which contribute human capital to the economy. Marriage influences economic behavior as well. This is especially true for men, who in many cases become more economically responsible when they have a family to support.No wonder that Gary Becker, the 1992 Nobel laureate in economics, has argued that the married-couple household represents the most economically efficient of all living arrangements. Men and women who are happily married can expect higher average incomes and relatively lower living expenses than other households. Sociologist Linda Waite documents that marriage is a wealth generator, as married couples usually reach retirement with substantially greater assets than their single peers. Given the clear economic benefits of marriage, the new move to support the formation and stability of healthy marriages goes a long way in helping American social policy reinforce sound economic policy.©OECD Observer, No 248, March 2005See also replies by five other OECD ministers: Netherlands’ minister for social affairs and employment and chair of the 2005 OECD social affairs meeting, Aart Jan de Geus, Australia’s minister for family and community services, Kay Patterson, Germany’s federal minister for health and social security, Ulla Schmidt, Korea’s minister for health and welfare and co-chair of the 2005 meeting Geun Tae Kim, and Sweden’s minister for social affairs, Berit Andnor, who is also co-chairing.

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