The XX Factor

Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush Keep Pushing the Line That Marriage Cures Poverty

Paul Ryan has an idea.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan spoke at an awards ceremony hosted by the right-wing think tank the Manhattan Institute this week, where again they pushed the line that the cure for poverty isn’t more money but marriage. “A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create,” Bush said. Paul concurred by saying that “the best way to turn from a vicious cycle of despair and learned hopelessness to a virtuous cycle of hope and flourishing is by embracing the attributes of friendship, accountability and love.” Hey poor people, just embrace love and let your hope flourish already!

Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress lays out all the reasons that wedding rings do not actually cure poverty. For one thing, marriage often ends up making a woman’s situation worse. “More than two-thirds of single mothers who marry end up divorced by the time they’re ages 35 to 44,” she writes. “That will actually leave them worse off financially than if they had stayed single.” She also points to research that shows that poverty is linked to single motherhood not because these mothers haven’t committed to the values of marriage but because our country has a moralistic safety net system that punishes single mothers. There are much lower rates of poverty for single mothers in less judgmental countries. 

Telling people to just get married doesn’t actually result in them running out and forming those “loving families” full of “friendship, accountability and love” anyway. As Covert writes:

And the government’s attempts at promoting marriage have shown pitiful results compared to the huge sums of money it spent. It spent $800 million on the Health Marriage Initiative but the national marriage rate continued to decline and the divorce rate remained unchanged, while state-level spending from the program didn’t have any significant association with marriage rates in those states. It spent $11,000 per couple in the Building Strong Families program but had no effect on whether couples got married or even stayed together, while those who enrolled were less likely to stick it out and the fathers were less likely to be involved with their children. And it spent $9,100 per couple in the Supporting Healthy Marriage program but it didn’t lead to more couples staying together or getting married and it had little impact on children’s well-being.

It appears that the “solution” for poverty that Republicans like Bush and Ryan are offering is unobtainable. Whether or not you wish every poor adult in America would just get married, holding out for that day to prove, definitively, whether marriage cures poverty—or whether it’s time to cave and consider the liberal solution of spending more money—means holding out for a day that will never come. How very convenient.