Many transfer programs, such as Head Start, Section 8 housing vouchers, and LIHEAP are not entitlements. That means not all individuals or households poten- tially eligible to receive funding or services under these programs receive them. For non-entitlement programs, savings realized from increases in marriage and marital stability could be reaped by taxpayers or the savings might be passed on to other poor people.33 But if such savings were to occur, legislators and voters could either choose to change the rules and use the money for other government purposes or return it to taxpayers.
The next steps in our study were finding ways to estimate any increased costs to the justice system caused by family fragmentation and any foregone tax payments that would result from eliminating family fragmentation. These two sets of calcula- tions require some discussion.
What Costs Are Associated with the Justice System?
Evidence suggests that boys raised in single-parent households are likely to commit
crimes at much higher rates than boys raised in married households.34 riage reduces the likelihood that adult men will commit crimes.35
For the purposes of calculating the impact of family fragmentation on increased costs to the justice system, however, we use the following cautious and simplifying assumption: All of the effects of family fragmentation on crime operate through their impact on childhood poverty rates. In this analysis, we are following Harry Holzer and his colleagues. They created a methodology to estimate the impact of eradicat- ing childhood poverty on costs to the U.S. economy. One cost they consider is the cost to the justice system—which includes courts, police, prisons, and jails. Essentially, based on several assumptions taken from the empirical literature on
crime, they report that 24 percent of crime is caused by childhood poverty.36
this result, we estimate that if marriage were to reduce childhood poverty rates by 36.1 percent, then costs for the justice system would be reduced by approximately $19 billion. (See details of this calculation in table A.1.)
How Are Foregone Tax Revenues Estimated?
To estimate the impact of family fragmentation on foregone tax revenues, we must estimate the increase in taxable income that would result from marriage. We again make the simplifying assumption that marriage has no behavioral effect; in other words, marriage would not increase the labor supply of men and would therefore have no impact on the taxable earnings of single parents who marry. Again, given
the rich literature on how marriage impacts male labor supply,37
this is a cautious
assumption, which increases our confidence that our analysis does not overestimate the actual taxpayer costs of the decline of marriage.