But marriage is more than a moral or even social institution; it is also an economic one, a generator of social and human capital, especially when it comes to children. Not much attention has been focused to date on the hard, economic costs of family fragmentation, by which we mean not only the economic costs to affected individ- uals and families but also to the public purse.
There are good reasons for suspecting that taxpayer costs associated with family fragmentation are substantial: To the extent that the decline of marriage increases the number of children and adults eligible for and in need of government services, costs to taxpayers will grow. To the extent that increases in family fragmentation also independently drive social problems faced by communities—such as crime, domestic violence, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy—the costs to taxpayers of addressing these increasing social problems are also likely to be significant. Pointing out these concerns is not to “blame the victim,” but rather to launch a serious effort to determine what these costs are. If these costs are deemed substantial, then it is worth thinking carefully about how these costs can be lowered so that resources can be freed for other useful purposes.
In 2000, a group of more than one hundred family scholars and civic leaders noted the range of public costs associated with family breakdown, concluding:
Divorce and unwed childbearing create substantial public costs, paid by tax- payers. Higher rates of crime, drug abuse, education failure, chronic illness, child abuse, domestic violence, and poverty among both adults and children bring with them higher taxpayer costs in diverse forms: more welfare expen- diture; increased remedial and special education expenses; higher day-care subsidies; additional child-support collection costs; a range of increased direct court administration costs incurred in regulating post-divorce or unwed fami- lies; higher foster care and child protection services; increased Medicaid and Medicare costs; increasingly expensive and harsh crime-control measures to compensate for formerly private regulation of adolescent and young-adult behaviors; and many other similar costs.
While no study has yet attempted precisely to measure these sweeping and diverse taxpayer costs stemming from the decline of marriage, current research suggests that these costs are likely to be quite extensive. 5
In response to public concerns about the negative consequences of divorce and unmarried childbearing for child well-being, the federal government and many states have modestly funded programs aimed at strengthening marriage.
Since the mid-1990s, at least nine states have publicly adopted a goal of strength- ening marriage, and seven states have dedicated funding (often using a very small