| November 14, 2013

A High-Investment Strategy for Oklahoma

We all know someone who is divorced. Most people either have been close to someone journeying through a divorce or have endured the emotionally trying path themselves. While it is exceptionally hard on the husband and wife, what about the children?

Where there is the confluence of life challenges and a child’s ability to cope with challenges, the prevailing cultural attitude is “Children are resilient — they’ll be okay.” I very much agree with that statement, but only when those challenges happen in an intact family where the child’s mother and father are present.

With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, how are the children of these broken unions responding to the great upheaval that divorce inflicts on a family? How are they performing academically and emotionally? Will they be more likely to cohabit and not marry?

The real costs associated with divorce include costs measured in terms of government growth, as divorced parents with children outsource expenses to the government in the form of Medicaid, TANF, child welfare, and more. These are expenses that could be paid for and reduced if there were a watchful mother and father in the home.

A study by economist Ben Scafidi estimated the taxpayer cost of divorce and unwed childbirth and concluded that divorce and unwed childbearing costs Oklahoma taxpayers $430 million annually. Further, in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper released in September, economists Lundberg and Pollak find that “The poor and less educated are much more likely to rear children in cohabitating relationships. The college educated typically cohabit before marriage, but they marry before conceiving children and their marriages are relatively stable.”

Moreover, they find that “Marriage is the commitment mechanism that supports high levels of investment in children and is hence more valuable for parents adopting a high-investment strategy for their children.”

State Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), vice chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, called for an interim study of the effects of divorce on Oklahoma’s economy. He says, “As Oklahoma continues to face budget challenges, and as we look for ways to help our children flourish, it seems wise that this committee take a closer look at what we can do to reverse the trend of unnecessary divorce.”

Everyone should want parents to have a “high-investment strategy” for their children. After all, children who are emotionally well-adjusted, smart, compassionate, and ambitious possess some of the most important traits we want to see in our future entrepreneurs, workers, and leaders.

When children come from a two-parent home, the probability is significantly greater that these types of children will emerge. They will also emerge wealthier. Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council, who testified this month at an interim study conducted by Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, reports that of those households with children, it is in married, intact households where the median income of $82,270 outstrips that of the next highest household income by 25 percent, or $16,454.

The development of no-fault divorce ultimately changes people’s time horizons. When people aren’t forced to prove why a divorce is in the best interest of the man, woman, and child, they no longer think of marriage as a lifetime commitment. As a result, the data show that people are choosing to not even bother marrying despite the overwhelming economic evidence that over their lifetimes, they will be much poorer for not doing so.

If we as a culture embrace cohabitation and divorce instead of lifetime marriage, we are upsetting the singular institution (outside of the rule of law) responsible for our moral and durable culture.

OCPA research fellow Wendy P. Warcholik (Ph.D., George Mason University) formerly served as an economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, and was the chief forecasting economist for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services. She is a co-creator (with J. Scott Moody) of the Tax Foundation’s popular “State Business Tax Climate Index.”

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