Proof That Strong Traditional Marriages and Religiosity Foster Economic Prosperity for States
A recently released report says that Utah’s economy ranks No. 1 among all 50 states and attributes this top ranking to the influence of the state’s dominant culture of heterosexual marriage and the strength and stability of its families.
Authors Brad Wilcox, Jenet Erickson, and Patrick T. Brown conclude in the Sutherland Institute report that marriage and families have proven to function as effective anti-poverty programs. Higher levels of marriage — and in particular, higher levels of married-parent families — are strongly associated with greater economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income.
“The percentage of parents who are married in a given state is typically a stronger predictor of the state’s economic mobility, child poverty, and median family income than are the education level, racial makeup, and age composition of its population,” the authors state.
Intact heterosexual married families outperform other living arrangements (including cohabitation) when comparing the outcomes of basic economic measures such as employment, income, net worth, poverty, receipt of welfare, and the economic well-being of children. These are relevant economic indicia that define the economic prosperity of individual states.
Religion is Good for the Economy
An important ingredient of these findings is that individuals with a religious affiliation are more likely to be married than those who are not. Because the Mormon Church dominates Utah’s culture and because marriage represents a core teaching of that church, Utah leads other states in its number of marriages.
Wilcox et al. point out that “no state in the Union has as many men, women and children in married households” as does Utah. They stated, “In 2021, 55% of adults in Utah (age 18-55) were married and 82% of its children were living in married couple families. This compares to 45% of adults married and 75% of kids living in married families nationally.”
However, we are informed that Utah is not immune to “a broader national tendency to delay marriage and postpone or defer childbearing.” In 1950, almost 90% of newborn children until age 14 lived with married parents in America. The proportion has now dramatically fallen to less than two-thirds of such children. Since the late 1970s, every state has witnessed a substantial drop in the percentage of adults who are married.
In spite of the fact that a historically low marriage rate exists in society today and a record number of people in today’s culture are projected to forgo marriage altogether, studies show that family breakdown is three times more common among unmarried/cohabiting couples. Parents who cohabit but never marry are the most likely to separate by the time their child turns 14. Some 60% of cohabiting parents separated by the time their child turned 14, compared with just 21% of couples who married before the birth of their first child and 32% who married after.
The onslaught of what we today call “woke” culture has adversely affected the entire country’s view of marriage and, in turn, the economic gains a culture based on matrimonial monogamy can produce. In addition, the recent influx of new residents into Utah from more liberal states with less traditional values suggest that “as the state has grown, its status as a family outlier may be starting to converge with national norms.”
Nevertheless, conservative states with high degrees of religiosity like Utah experienced less of a retreat from marriage than more secular states. Recognizing this fact leads to a conclusion that our country as a whole needs to rebuild the culture of marriage and family. How? By strengthening traditional values incorporated within the Judeo-Christian ethic that exhort marital fidelity and the raising of children. (Parenthetically, it is also helpful to reduce government intervention that adversely affects marriage rates, such as the marriage penalty for welfare beneficiaries.)
The Devastation of Targeting Marriage and Family
This idea of abolishing the procreative family as a social unit is an ancient one, going back to Plato’s “Republic” and reappearing at intervals throughout the history of socialist theory and experimentation. For example, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels called for the abolition of marriage and family. They advocated replacing them with a “free love” among the sexes.
Stemming from anti-bourgeois aspects of socialist theory, advocates of a new world order denigrate physical and spiritual blessings of marriage between men and women as well as the resultant families.
The objective of many of the more modern radical leftists favor a kind of sexual socialism. They wish to literally overthrow the biblical teachings previously integral to traditional sexual morality. Their stated goal of deconstructing family life is emphasized by any number of statements from them as they advocate abandoning Judeo-Christian ethics.
Two illustrative quotes of such radicals emphasize this point. In an essay written at the turn of the 21st century titled “Let Love Determine Who is Part of a Clan,” the writer suggests that “the nuclear family has been the most destructive influence on all our human relationships.” And a 1980s essay titled “For the Homoerotic Order” published in the Gay Community News argues, “The family unit — spawning ground of lies, betrayals, mediocrity, hypocrisy and violence, will be abolished. … The family unit, which dampens imagination and curbs free will, must be eliminated.”
Those who favor sexual liberation enthusiastically denigrate the fundamental relationship between faith, marriage, and family. Conservatives commonly use the phrase “faith and family values” because of the connection between biblical values and strong families.
Those with leftist ideological fixations seek to bring about a new erotic order. The impact of such a philosophy confronts every person living in Western society with the socially fabricated fantasy that true happiness is to be found outside the family and in a world of complete and unrestrained sexual freedom. This view is widely propagated within mainstream media and the entertainment industry and is being taught in the majority of school systems. All of these stimuli result in widespread practices of sexual indulgence that is baited with sexual imagery.
We Need to Reject the Culture of Narcissism
This culture of narcissism exaggerates the importance of self-realization and individual fulfillment. As opposed to an unbridled lifestyle that values sexual excitement and physical gratification as the highest good, followers of Judeo-Christian traditional biblical principles observe a code of behavior and a system of values that call upon men and women to meet a set of behavioral and philosophical standards that empower the spirit, the will, and the intellect while seeking to support and help others in their family and community. This makes them able to overcome the potentially destructive forces of selfishness and unrestrained physical desire.
In other words, they are capable of overcoming an egocentric hedonism that is directly antithetical to the Bible’s careful regulation of one’s relations with G-d, humanity, and nature. Rabbi Norman Linzer explains that “deification of the self … creates conflict in the family and breeds is dissolution.”
While radical left-wing secularists continue to advocate for decreased religiosity and a weakening of the family unit, policymakers need to be aware of the plethora of studies like the Sutherland Institute report demonstrating the benefits of religion in society and, in particular, how families with such beliefs benefit society.
We need to reject the cultural movement which began gaining strength in the last half of the 20th century and sought to reject traditional norms. The secularists’ efforts have produced tragic results of family breakdowns, including growing numbers of adulterous liaisons, cohabitating couples, greater divorce, more abortions, and the like.
When we discard basic truths that have stood the test of time throughout generations, we do so at our own peril. We now see increasing numbers of nontraditional family structures and an increasing emphasis on economic solutions that rely on government intervention to undermine traditional values.
It is ironic, for example, to see leftists creating woke curriculums in school systems and encouraging such schools to step in to replace the family by acting as the parent, despite having no institutional capacity to evoke either love or commitment from children.
As a 2001 Heritage Foundation report explained, data clearly shows that growing up in a traditional family with religious belief not only strengthens the economy but most often results in “better health, longevity, happiness, higher levels of educational attainment, stronger work ethics, and more income and lifetime wealth” and also helps “to lower levels of crime, drug addiction, out of wedlock births, abortion, divorce, school dropouts, joblessness, poverty, illness, suicide, and depression.”
The Wilcox et al. study points out how distressing it is that the substantial evidence linking traditional families and their emphasis on religiosity to a state’s economic prosperity has received far less attention than it deserves. When intact marriages and regular religious worship are combined, not only does the nation as a whole benefit but we see benefits for individuals, too — both adults and children.
The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.
Arthur Goldberg is the former director of two ministries: Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, or JONAH, and the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness, or JIFGA. He is the author of the book “Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change.” See his story here.
Copyright 2023 The Daily Signal