How should policymakers, state legislators, and others respond to the large taxpayer costs of family fragmentation? We note that even very small increases in stable mar- riage rates as a result of government programs or community efforts to strengthen marriage would result in very large savings for taxpayers. If the federal marriage initiative, for example, succeeds in reducing family fragmentation by just 1 percent, U.S. taxpayers will save an estimated $1.1 billion each and every year.
Because of the modest price tags associated with most federal and state marriage- strengthening programs, and the large taxpayer costs associated with divorce and unwed childbearing, even modest success rates would be cost-effective. Texas, for example, recently appropriated $15 million over two years for marriage education and other programs to increase stable marriage rates. If this program succeeds in increasing stably married families by just three-tenths of 1 percent, it will be cost- effective in its returns to Texas taxpayers.
This report is organized as follows: Section I explains why policymakers may have an interest in supporting marriage. Sections II and III explain the methods used to estimate the taxpayer cost of family fragmentation by using evidence about the rela- tionship between family breakdown and poverty. Section IV reveals the national estimate of the taxpayer cost. Estimated costs for individual states are found in appendix B.
Finally, a note to social scientists: Few structural estimates exist of the relationships needed to estimate the taxpayer costs of family fragmentation. Therefore, we have used indirect estimates based on the assumption that marriage has no independent effects on adults or children other than the effect of marriage on poverty.