From the desk of Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action and Wisconsin Family Council:
It’s time for some good news. For the first time in years, both the number of marriages and the marriage rate in Wisconsin are beginning to go up. And that’s good news indeed.
In 2011, for the first time since the 1980s, the number of marriages increased from the previous year. Admittedly, it was a very modest increase; and it wasn’t enough to change the marriage rate, which is the number of people married out of 1000 people in the total population. In 2011 there were 335 more marriages in Wisconsin than in 2010, which is just a little over 1% increase.
Last year we had 653 more marriages than in 2011, an increase that actually impacted the marriage rate, taking it from 5.3 to 5.4. The number of 2012 marriages is a 2.16 percent increase over 2011.
Now, these are definitely not huge increases, and two years does not necessarily constitute a reversed trend; but any increase is better than continuing the downward spiral we’ve been in. To put this in perspective, since 2000, just 13 years ago, the number of marriages in our state has dropped over 14% and the marriage rate has dropped nearly 20% over the same time period.
If we bump the time frame back just another ten years to1990, the number of marriages in The Badger State has dropped 21%; and the marriage rate has dropped a staggering 38%, going from 8.0 to 5.4–even factoring in two years of slight upticks.
So in light of this overall historical picture, what’s so encouraging about these relatively small increases in the number of marriages and the marriage rate? To put it bluntly, marriage is good for Wisconsin.
Consider, for instance, that married couples and their children are rarely in poverty. But single-parent households, especially single-mother households, are frequently in poverty. In fact, experts are now telling us that the fastest way to put a woman or a child in to poverty is for them to be victims of divorce or unwed childbirth. Poverty is certainly bad for the individuals involved, but it also is harmful to society in general, since under our current system of welfare and other entitlement programs, the taxpayers are called on to support these households. Married households largely stand independent of government. Married couples and their families most typically pay into the system rather than take from the system.
Poverty is kind of the capstone of the issue. If we break it down a bit, what we find is that statistics show us that, on average, married men and women are healthier, earn more, save more, invest more, and volunteer more than their unmarried counterparts. Children in married-couple homes, on average, do better in school; are less likely to get involved with drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity; are healthier, are safer; experience less depression; are more likely to get married themselves; and are less likely to get in trouble with the law. And these are just some of the good benefits from people marrying, staying married, and rearing their biological or adopted children.
Certainly all of these good things have benefits beyond just saving taxpayers money. But we can’t discount the financial side. Statistics continue to show that states spend an enormous amount of taxpayer money dealing with the fallout of fewer people marrying, more children born out of wedlock, and divorce—because all of the negatives that happen to single moms and their children eventually cost taxpayers money. In fact, in Wisconsin, every year taxpayers spend, at a minimum, $737 million on family fragmentation, which is unwed childbirth, which now approaches 40% statewide, and divorce. It’s pretty clear to anyone who wants to look at the facts honestly that marriage is good for Wisconsin.
So how do we continue to see the marriage numbers go up in our state? For starters, churches needs to keep talking positively about marriage and engaging in significant premarital counseling, marriage mentoring, and marriage enrichment work; policy makers at all levels of government must initiate legislation that rewards marriage and does not reward unwed childbirth; families—especially Christian families–must model good marriages and must talk to their children about how and why marriage is good and how to make marriage last a lifetime. And organizations such Wisconsin Family Council need to keep taking the pro-marriage message to churches, policy makers and families. When we all do our part, I’m optimistic that we’ll keep seeing our Wisconsin marriage numbers improve—and that will be a really good thing for The Badger State.