Is Georgia a poorer state because there aren’t enough people married or is it the other way around? Or does marriage have nothing at all to do with the wealth of a state?
There’s a long history of argument among economists and social commenters about the idea that economics tends to shape society. And there is a school of thought — led by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, but subsequently followed up by other researchers — that the decline of manufacturing and the drop in incomes made many blue-collar and urban men less desirable as husbands.
But a recently issued report from several think tanks argues that the flow tends to run the other way.
States where marriage is strongest are the richest states, says the study. States with the largest retreat from traditional marriage are the weakest.
The study shows Georgia to be one of the weakest states on traditional marriage and also to be burdened with much higher than average poverty — especially among children.
Which is cause? Which is effect?
Marriage makes for better economics, argue the three authors who wrote and released the report under the auspices of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.
Among people 25 to 59, that is, “prime age adults,” 46 percent of Georgians are married. That is the sixth-lowest percentage among the states. The national average is 53 percent, according to the report.
Narly one-quarter of Georgia’s children live in poverty.
They note that traditional marriage has been declining across the country, but some states have been moving away from it much faster than others. The change in the percentage of parents without children who are married has fallen by about 24 percent in Georgia in – the fourth-largest drop among the states.
One measure of wealth is to divide the economy – gross domestic product – by each resident. Georgia ranks 35th among the states in GDP per capita.
Of the state’s children, 63 percent live in households with married parents, the report says.
The report’s authors chide their side of the ideological spectrum for putting too much emphasis on the markets and not enough on marriage.
“Conservatives’ focus on free markets and limited government, as valuable as they are, tends to obscure other social and cultural factors conducive to prosperity,” they write. “In particular, left largely unexamined in the work of conservative economists such as Milton Friedman and Gregory Mankiw is how the emergence of a dynamic free enterprise system might depend on strong families and a vibrant civil society.”
But look at how the economic and social data match up, they argue.
“All this suggests that, at the macro level, states that have strong and stable families are more likely to show high levels of growth, economic mobility, and median family income, and low levels of child poverty.”
“A substantial body of research concludes that the retreat from marriage is one factor behind increases in child poverty in the United States since the late 1960s, and new research on economic mobility indicates that poor children in regions with more two-parent families achieve more upward mobility than poor kids in regions with large numbers of single-parent families.”