Study Details High Economic Costs of Divorce

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A new report by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada says the cost of family breakdown to society amounts to more than $6 billion a year in the U.S.

According to Fr. John Flynn writing for Zenit News, the report, entitled “Private Choices, Public Costs: How Failing Families Cost Us All,” details the economic impact of marriage failure.

The study estimated the cost of family breakdown in relation to government spending for the fiscal year 2005-06 and found that the  impact on the budget of assistance programs designed to help broken families amounts to around $7 billion Canadian dollars and more than $6 billion U.S. dollars per year.

“Where families fail, as they so often do today, it is up to the rest of us, via government agencies and institutions, to pay for those failures,” the report states.

It points out that family breakdown is more than just divorce and includes couples who cohabit and single mothers who have never married or lived with the fathers of their babies.

Canadian census data showed that two-parent families are the least dependent upon government assistance, single-father households are more dependent, and single-mother households the most dependent.

Therefore, if family breakdown could be cut by just half, the direct savings to taxpayer funded assistance programs would be reduced by close to $2 billion Canadian dollars and $1.76 billion U.S. dollars annually.

The report goes on to detail the impact of broken families on children.

“Whether couples are married or not is a remarkably accurate predictor of outcomes for children on many social science scales, even when economic factors are excluded,” the report said.

A whole range of social outcomes, such as drug use, academic results, health and happiness, are affected by family structures. Both children and adults fare much better in a stable married situation.

“The point of debate should not be whether a lack of two married parents matters for children but rather what to do with the reality that it does,” the report commented.

“Members of families that remain intact would be happier, healthier and wealthier, but there are also benefits that extend beyond these families,” the report added.

Society needs healthy families in order to flourish. “Neighborhoods in which adult male role models are scarce contribute to a culture of machismo, violence and irresponsibility for young men which harms even those children who live with both their parents,” it argued.

The institute concluded the report with a list of recommendations ranging from marriage education at high schools to making information available on the public benefits of marriage, and the costs of divorce.

It also called upon governments to publish clearer data on how much is being spent to support cohabiting and single parents.

Governments need to understand the difference between marriage and cohabitation, and they should promote marriage for all the benefits it offers over cohabitation, the study urged.

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