It's Father's Day, when many will celebrate (or not) the virtues and value of fathers.
Increasingly, more children do not know their father or are conditioned to not even acknowledge, "Dad." Government has many fatherhood initiatives. However, the value of fathers marrying the mothers of their children is ignored. The best father is a married father.
Research shows that children with both a mother and father in their lives are better off in virtually every way. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children living with both biological parents are the least likely to experience a host of adverse family experiences compared to peers living with just one or neither biological parent.
Bringing fathers and mothers together is worthwhile for our children, communities and our future. Marriage is a proven way to make this happen. In some cities, local clergy have signed a Community Marriage Policy, a covenant agreeing not to marry any couple who has not had a specified, substantial amount of pre-marital counseling.
Cities that create these covenants, according to the Institute for Research and Evaluation, found divorce rates fell 17.5 percent on average; divorce rates fell by 50 percent or more in nearly a tenth of cities. They also cut cohabitation rates by a third, compared to similar cities in the same state.
Government should support, rather than undermine, this time-tested institution, even by encouraging some cohabiting couples receiving government assistance for children to marry. In Kentucky, with 23,000 unwed births, taxpayers dole out a huge $575 million for one year of births.
One way to tackle this is to look at the issue of cohabitation.
Last year, 8 million couples in the United States were cohabiting. Two-thirds of those who married were living together. However, with 2.2 million marriages annually, that means only 1.4 million cohabiting couples tied the knot. What about the other 6.6 million cohabiting couples?
Most broke up. On average, cohabitation lasts 15 months. The grim odds are that four of five cohabiting couples will split before a wedding. This will come as a shock to the woman who thought that if she moved in with her boyfriend, he would see what a wonderful wife she'd make and propose. The boyfriend knows she would marry him if asked. By cohabiting he enjoys convenient sex, shared rent and companionship — without commitment.
When she discovers he is not serious, she moves out. No longer the same hopeful and attractive young woman, her searing experience has left her less self-confident, possibly embittered or depressed.
Also she may be pregnant or have a child. Cohabiting couples have children at nearly the same rate as married couples — 41 percent vs. 46 percent, respectively. Those children are three times as likely to be expelled from school or get pregnant as those from intact homes, five times more apt to be poor and 12 times more likely to be incarcerated.
To the rescue comes "Uncle Sugar," to quote former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Unwed mothers qualify for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing and day care subsidies, etc.
The Heritage Foundation estimated that in 2004 those subsidies cost taxpayers about $20,000 annually per unwed birth or divorce with a child (with inflation that's $25,000 today).
What can be done? We propose an idea we call cohabitation reform.
In this election year, encourage Kentucky legislative candidates to endorse the following idea: If a woman has an out-of-wedlock child and is living with the father, she could marry and not lose government benefits for two years. Benefits then taper off the following three years.
Kentucky should subsidize couples with children to marry rather than subsidize cohabitation. That's a win/win for couples, children and Kentuckians.
In time, costs to taxpayers will fall. We could save $250 million to $500 million annually as more couples marry and fewer children are born to unwed couples. This would save Kentucky taxpayers $2.5 billion to $5 billion over the next 10 years.
More will marry. Children will have a better future.
And many more will celebrate a Happy Father's Day.
About the authors: Greg Williams is director of The Family Foundation's Kentucky Marriage Movement and Mike McManus is president of Marriage Savers.