As recently reported by the Associated Press, a new study, by Georgia State University economist Ben Scafidi, and sponsored by several "marriage movement" groups, including the New York-based Institute for American Values, purports to show that divorce and unwed childbearing costs Americans over $112 billion a year in extra taxes.
But after my initial, very quick review of the report, I believe this study really does little more than highlight a correlation between single parenthood and poverty. I certainly don't think it proves that the claimed extra billions in tax costs are a direct consequence and result of single parenting itself; in the language of law school torts class, there is no "but for" causation here. Surely, divorce and nonmarital breakups are very costly to splitting families themselves, whether they are in affluent or poor neighborhoods. And yes, some of these costs, not only for the poor but also for the affluent, are passed on to the rest of us through extra taxes.
But the study seems to focus mostly on the most vulnerable of broken families and the supposed extra tax costs of welfare dependency by poor single parents. And for that lower strata of society, this may be like the question about the chicken and the egg. Which comes first, poverty or broken homes? Certainly there is a correlation, but is there causation, and if so what and where is that causation, and which way does it run? I'm not sure. I don't think this study comes close to answering those questions.
Can we really "strengthen marriage" as the sponsors of this study want to do, without first improving economic conditions for people in this segment of our society? I tend to think the critics, who suggest we would do better to focus on education and full employment policies rather than "marriage strengthening" plans, make more sense. You know, it's the economy, stupid. But on the other hand, I am sure there are in fact other, non-economic forces that contribute to the pulling of families apart, and that in turn lead to the duplicate expenses that make life so hard for them, and more costly for all of us.
So it's good that someone is seriously looking at this issue. I hope that further such studies will follow. I have only briefly looked at the study, and I already see some big problems with it, but still, there is a lot of interesting data there and it's well worth a look. You can find the study and related information about it at the Institute for American Values website here, where you can sign up to download the study for free.
EXCERPT FROM AP ARTICLE, APRIL 15, 2008:
NEW YORK - Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages.
Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages. Two experts not connected to the study said such programs are of dubious merit and suggested that other investments -- notably job creation -- would be more effective in aiding all types of needy families.
There have been previous attempts to calculate the cost of divorce in America. But the sponsors of the new study, being released Tuesday, said theirs is the first to gauge the broader cost of "family fragmentation" -- both divorce and unwed childbearing.
For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.