OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers should not ignore the positive effect of marriage on health, education, public safety and the economy, according to one state lawmaker.
“A growing body of research suggests that marriage is good for you. It improves your health, wealth and longevity. The research also overwhelmingly shows the dramatic positive effects that intact families have on children,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough, about today’s press conference in recognition of National Marriage Week at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Mike Jestes, representing Marriage Network Oklahoma, spoke at the conference about, how as the son of a single mother and brother of two men who have spent time in prison, he knows firsthand what happens when children are born out of wedlock.
“Marriage matters to kids. Every child deserves to have a mother and a father in the home that contribute differently and to the success of that child,” he said.
Over the last few years, McCullough has held three legislative studies on family fragmentation and divorce and has brought several of the recommendations coming out of those studies to the Oklahoma Legislature. The studies found that children from broken homes are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated. Meanwhile, state spending on the criminal justice system has grown 510 percent since 1982 and Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates. Those same children are also three times more likely to be expelled and to receive lower grades. “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing” conservatively estimates the resulting taxpayer cost of divorce (largely through public assistance programs), at $112 billion per year nationally and $430 million annually in Oklahoma. It shows family fragmentation is at the epicenter of much of what state government is paying for.
“Even while we celebrate marriage, sadly the reality in our culture is that 40 percent of all first-time marriages end in divorce and 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. As policymakers and as citizens we should be very aware of the negative outcomes created by our trend towards failed marriages. Similarly, unwed childbearing is on the rise, leaving mothers and children in poverty. I believe it is imperative that we emphasize the importance and benefits of marriage.”
Clarence Hill Jr., executive director of Eye to Eye Marriage Enrichment Community, said the increasing failure of marriages is an unrecognized crisis and that “big family equals small government.”
“A lot don’t see the level of crisis we are in right now, but we are in a crisis even though it doesn’t look like it,” Hill said.
Compared to married people, unmarried individuals have higher rates of mortality – about 50 percent higher among women and 250 percent higher among men, according to “The Impact of the Family on Health: Decade in Review” in the Journal of Marriage and the Family.
The biggest gap between married and unmarried mortality rates occurs in early middle age among adults 35-45 years of age. Married men are less likely to take part in risky and self-destructive behaviors, especially alcohol abuse, and married women reduce their smoking, drinking and drug use, according to studies. Studies have also shown that unmarried couples that move in toghether did not motivate young men and women to reduce unhealthy behaviors.
Married men and women report less depression, less anxiety and lower levels of psychological distress than those who are singled, divorced or widowed, according to Social Causes of Psychological Distress. Divorce is especially damaging to a women’s mental health. Surveys have shown divorcing women are more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and less personal growth.
“We have been talking about the mental health issues we deal with at the state level and it seems like marriage ties into them also,” McCullough said. “I think we have to talk about working on mental health issues at their source, rather than at the back end.”
Other studies have shown that marriage leads to greater wealth. For those raising children, married families accumulate the most money while single mothers and cohabiting couples had the lowest media wealth. Married couples in their fifties and sixties had a median net worth of more than $132,000 while those who were divorced had a median net worth of $33,670 and those who had never been married had a net worth of $35,000.
“Marriage is not just an emotional relationship, but also an economic relationship,” said McCullough. “The rise of the welfare state is very closely tied to the breakdown of marriage. I support efforts such as the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, which incentivizes a little marriage counseling for couples who are tying the knot and other policy ideas that promote marriage. Marriage really is the stepping stone to a better life.”
McCullough is the author of House Bill 1548, which would reintroduce limited fault into divorce law. Previously, he has authored “covenant marriage” legislation that would have required pre-marital counseling into the marriage process.
“Ironically, most Oklahomans value traditional marriage derived from our strong, Biblical heritage. I reach out to the faith community to redouble their efforts on strengthening and preserving the families in their own walls and communities.”
Other speakers who participated in the event include Keith Burkhart, family minister director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; Carol Gordan of Heartmenders; Kendy Cox, director of service delivery for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative; Jack Myrick, project manager of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative Service Delivery System; and the Rev. Dr. David Kimmell with the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.