The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: Valuable New Study

The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and for All Fifty States is a valuable new study that helps quantify the public economic damage borne by taxpayers that is caused by divorce and unwed childbearing. In addition to the high social costs, harm to children, and other individual costs, the public impact certainly merits consideration.

This study was done for the Institute for American Values, an organization devoted to strengthening families. Its methodology is described in detail in the study, and a Q&A section deals with many challenges that might be raised. Just the literature review in the introduction teaches some powerful lessons about the importance of marriage.

I heard an interview today on Wisconsin Public Radio with David Blankenhorn, founder and President of the Institute for American Values. This soft-spoken intellectual is an eloquent defender of marriage and the family. A liberal Wisconsin woman called in and questioned why we need marriage at all. She said she spent time in Sweden and saw that people could come and go in relationships as they wished and have no trouble raising kids because the State provided free day care. “Isn’t marriage dead?” she wondered. And while she said she was married with children, she advocated the idea of enhanced “flexibility” by allowing relationships to come and go, with State support for childcare. Blankenhorn was gentle but terribly direct. The advantages of “flexibility,” he pointed out, were all for the adults, and certainly not for the children. What study after study has shown is that children need to be raised in a stable environment with parents that love them and will be there for them, not strangers who come and go in flexible relationships. And then the woman got riled, insisting that he had no right to tell her whether she loved her children or not. Well, that’s not what he was doing. He was explaining that regardless of her feelings, there is abundant evidence that children do better when raised in a stable marriage, and there are real costs at many levels when adults pursue “flexibility.”

The newly released study points to a minimum taxpayer burden of $112 billion a year from divorce and unwed childbearing. So please, I hope you’ll do the right thing and wait until marriage to start having children, and then do your best to make your marriage work. But it’s not just for my pocketbook that I ask that — it really is about the children.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

12 thoughts on “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: Valuable New Study

  1. I heard the same program on WPR today, and was going to post on my own blog about it, but I only heard half of it and was going to listen to the other half when it is posted on, but you beat me to it.:)

    I also was shocked by the suggestions of the first caller. And I found it strange that she was advocating government paid child care to help people in “flexible” relationships. The whole point of the study was to show how much “flexible” relationships are costing us indirectly. The last thing we need is to add more direct costs.

    But in any case, it’s an interesting study. I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the show, and reading the report myself if I get time.

  2. HI Jeff,

    I’m not at all shocked by the comments made or even the recommendation that we tax payers provide child care to help with these flexible relationships. We’re already doing that quite a bit in this country. What shocks me is the short-sited and naive nature of the insight one must have to think flexible relationships are okay for children or for adults. It doesn’t take some fancy study to know that kids need stability. All one needs is common sense to figure that out. Applying a little of the same common sense, it wouldn’t take much to figure out that adults need the stability too. That is part of the point of marriage, at least from a secular stand point.

    Much of the problems that we have in this country can be traced to the “disposable” nature of relationships. Not just marriage, but friendships, employer/employee relations, politicians, etc. All of these relationships in American Culture have become disposable and easily dissolved. What we’ve done to ourselves is create a sense of disloyalty. Why keep an employee for thirty years, when you can just get someone else for less money?

    No fault divorce, there was a good idea for the family. (Please note the sarcasm before criticizing) With no fault divorce, we can just decide we don’t want our current spouse and find a new one. Hey, while we’re at it, why wait for the divorce, we’ll just find one now so that when we finalize the divorce, we can just move them in. Never mind the impact such conduct might have on the kids.

    This liberal Wisconsin woman should go spend some time in divorce court talking to children about flexible relationships. If she did that, I would venture to guess what she’d find is that all of those kids can say without a doubt who their mother is, but not who dad is. That’s because with these wonderful “flexible relationships” who dad is is more of a “flavour of the week approach.” But, according to this woman this is a good idea. Go figure.

    Catholic Defender

  3. ++ CD

    Can’t say the report’s conclusions surprise me, but I’m excited to read it and get some hard numbers. I fear Pennsylvania will be near the “most expensive” end of the list, though.

    It’s interesting that real science continues to back up an “outdated” and “backwards” institution like traditional families. I remember reading an essay by a BYU professor who was chosen to defend marriage in the Hawaii supreme court. The opposition was taking a scientific approach, presenting study after study showing either no effect or a positive effect on children in alternative-lifestyle homes.

    His response? He took every “scientific” study the opposition cited, dug up more on his own to bring the total up to 97 or so, and started vetting them for proper scientific methods.

    No control group? Gone. Statistically insignificant sample size? Gone. Subjects were acquaintances of the researcher rather than a random sample? Gone. Interviewing parents/guardians about how well the children were doing instead of interviewing the children or using an objective measure? Gone.

    Only 3 or 4 studies survived. At least one clearly and directly *supported* traditional marriage but the researchers still concluded the opposite, claiming they were “outliers” or some such. The rest were too ambiguous to say anything.

    Needless to say, traditional marriage won out. The essay can be found in “Strengthening Our Families: An In-depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family”. An excellent book.

  4. I just downloaded the report, and the $112B is total burden. Direct expenditures come to $42B while the rest is lost tax due to lowered income.

    Also important to note is that the figure *only* considers costs directly attributable to poverty in single mother households. They don’t try to quantify the effects on fathers or of broken-vs-whole effects that are independent of income level.

    Here are the figures for direct spending by the worst, best, or otherwise interesting states, per capita (the report gives only totals for each state):

    $278 – DC
    $239 – OH
    $208 – MI
    $203 – CT
    $193 – RI
    $189 – NY
    $186 – PA

    $140 – US Avg

    $133 – WI (20th)

    $108 – UT (39th)

    $87 – HA
    $87 – ID
    $80 – NE
    $80 – NV
    $75 – NH

    Sorry for the double-post…

  5. It’s not really politically correct to say so, but this study makes me wonder about the public policy wisdom of states like Texas and Utah that raised their marriage ages to target polygamist groups. Many kids who’ve reached puberty have sex. We can and do tell them to wait, but some don’t. About 17,000 American girls under 16 give birth each year. Are they really better off if we forbid them from marrying the father of their child? It seem highly possible they, their children, and society as a whole, do not benefit from that prohibition.

  6. Hi Grits for Breakfast,

    Much of the prohibition of 16 year olds marrying stems from concerns that 16 year olds are immature and easily exploited by adults. I generally agree with that statement, although there are exceptions that should be accounted for. If you talk to a number of the 16 year olds out there in today’s society, they may want to marry, but very few of them are actually prepared for what it takes. Generally mormon girls are an exception to this because as a rule, its been my experience, mormon girls are brought up to be more responsible. That isn’t at all the norm in American Society.

    Catholic Defender

  7. It is sad that so many people in this day and age feel that marriage and the like are ‘outdated’. I used to think that my situation was the norm, married with my husband supporting the family and me staying home with the kids, but the older I get the more I find that this is not the case, and this saddens me. An increasing number of teenagers and young adults, even within the church, are not batting an eye when it comes to making immoral choices and shirking their responsibilities. Am I old fashioned to follow the prophet?

  8. There is a big push for “choice” out there. But the bigger problem, which is the consequences of those choices, is something that no one wants to bear. The far reaching effects of divorce on kids is painful. even in the best cases where both parents get along and cooperate, the kids still lose. I think we may soon find the divorce gene so that it will end up in the “can’t be changed” category so that it will be OK to continue the flexible lifestyle because it’s in our genes.

  9. It’s interesting how expenses for behavior we don’t like is a “cost,” and behavior we like is “support the family,” or a “benefit to society.” Do we worry about government grants for education as a “cost?” What about the “lost tax revenue” for child tax credits or home mortgage tax breaks?

    Not to mention every time the fire department or police are called to a tax-free chapel.

    We are more than willing to mooch off of the government when it’s something we support. If something is morally wrong, we should preach against it (or preach for the morally right choice, ideally). We shouldn’t just claim it costs too much. That’s the cowards way out. Stand for the right!

  10. Mel, I’m sure I’m misunderstanding you. You’re not saying that high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancy are something that could be considered a good thing, are you?

    The point of the study is to point out that this issue does not only have social costs (which are widely accepted), but also financial costs. For those who ignore the problem because their own family is fine, this study makes clear that these problems affect us in real ways. If we could solve the problem (and I don’t mean just lowering the number of divorces, but improving marriages overall), we could create a better society, as well as save money.

  11. Ah yes, I was misunderstanding. I apologize, Mel. But I do disagree with your point. The cost of society’s ills (social and economic) is something to consider.

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