Study shows social cost of divorce, unwed childbearing

Monday, April 21, 2008 | 2:31 p.m. CDT; updated 3:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Divorce has economic consequences not only for the parties involved but for society as a whole, according to a study released last week.

In Missouri, 60 percent of children in poverty come from unmarried households, the study reported.

Costs from divorce and unwed childbearing are estimated at $664 million per year, according to the study by the Institute for American Values, Georgia Family Council, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest. The study is titled “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing.”

The costs were measured by taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty, criminal justice and education programs. Forgone tax revenue and justice system costs were also factors.

“The stability and strength of any community is rooted within the walls of homes of people,” said David Schramm, MU assistant professor of human development and family studies.

“Within those homes are families, and a family with a healthy marriage is not only better for children, but now we have research that shows it saves money.”

Schramm did a similar study in Utah in 2006. The study focused on the cost of divorce, and he estimated that a divorce cost between $25,000 and $30,000. Those expenses come from federal and state government costs, Medicaid, child support enforcement and assistance programs. “Government involvement in marriage is a controversial topic, but by instilling preventative measures, such as relationship and marriage education, the government will actually save money,” Schramm said.

There are 659,000 people living in poverty in Missouri, according to the newer study, and 65 percent of these people are living in unmarried households.

Of the 65 percent, almost three times as many unmarried households are headed by a woman rather than a man. If 60 percent of these women were to marry, and as a result move above the poverty line, then poverty could be reduced by about 30 percent, the study reported. This could save Missouri $192 million.

“Prior research shows that marriage lifts single mothers out of poverty and therefore reduces the need for costly social benefits,” said Ben Scaridi, principal investigator for the study from Georgia College and State University, in a news release.

Schramm gave a more real-life scenario: A single mom with three children who works full time comes home every day to her second job as a mother. She receives financial assistance from government programs. If she were to marry, she would have more free time and energy to be a parent. Companionship and support from a husband, along with a second income, would release some of her emotional and financial burdens. She would no longer need government assistance, and that money could be applied somewhere else.

The healthy couple relationship would produce other benefits, Schramm said. The children would have two parents, so they are less likely to commit crime and more likely to graduate from high school. They would be more likely to have healthy relationships themselves by patterning their parents.

“This is really a focus on the children instead of the parent,” Schramm said.

Schramm is currently leading a Missouri Healthy Marriage Initiative to prevent these situations.

“The emphasis is on the quality of the relationship,” he said. “It’s not about just being married or just being together. It’s about having a healthy and happy relationship.”

To see the recent study, go to

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