Perspective: How Utah and the nation can better support the choice to marry

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The economic juggernaut that is Utah has gained a lot Press. A Deseret News Editorial Strong families in Utah are an important engine driving this economic good news, he said. Research Confirms and Utah Governor Spencer Cox said His 2022 State of the Union address. That opinion made a general call for public action to strengthen marriage as a central part of good family policy.

Although Utah has the highest share of married and two-parent families in the country, it still has an above-average divorce rate and declining marriage and fertility rates. Utahns — and Americans in general — believe in the personal and public good of marriage, but we still struggle to achieve our desire for stable, healthy, and happy unions.

It is easy to say “Amen” to the general call to strengthen marriage; It is difficult to enumerate the details. Devilish details can ruin a smiley agreement on what to do. But Brad Wilcox and his colleagues jump-started this much-needed cultural conversation with their latest initiative. Text In these pages.

I second their advice by beginning our efforts to teach youth and young adults the “Sequence of Success” in our schools, supported by an ongoing media campaign funded by the Legislature. That fact is clear: When young adults complete at least high school, work full-time, and marry before having children — in that order — they greatly reduce their risk of poverty (and their children’s).

But that shouldn’t be the end point for public efforts to strengthen marriage in Utah and other states. Next, let’s help couples build a solid foundation for success when they decide to get married—successful or not.

Prepare the engaged couple

It can be a difficult transition from me to us. Today, less than 30% of premarital couples in Utah and across the country invest in formal premarital education and counseling designed to improve their communication skills, increase their understanding of each other, talk about important issues together, and strengthen their commitment.

We can do more as a matter of public policy to increase the availability and ease of access to good, evidence-based premarital education and counseling. Utah and a handful of other states reduce marriage license costs for couples who invest in formal premarital education. That’s a good starting point. But states may consider partnering with wedding retailers to promote discounts on their products and services to couples who invest in premarital education.

In the digital age, many want the convenience (and privacy) of free online educational options that we need to support. The best time to save a marriage is before it starts.

Supporting spouses

Of course, even good marriage preparation is not an inoculation against marital conflict. Marriages need a regular supply of energy to help them grow and adapt to the daily stresses and changes of life. That is why public policy should support sustainability Educational resources Couples to combat marital slippage and strain.

Even with support, most marriages still hit rough patches. More than half of them say that they were married Think seriously about divorce At some point in their marriage and a quarter of them have such thoughts in the last six months. Public policy would do more to ensure that couples considering divorce get professional help. Health insurance policies often do not cover marriage counseling, despite its known success and health benefits. Many employers may include some type of marriage counseling benefit in their employee assistance programs. And state legislatures may consider making marriage counseling tax deductible.

Avoid punishing the choice of marriage

Unfortunately, there are public policies. Penalty Choice of marriage. This includes broad public assistance policies intended to help single parents in the first place (eg, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) but inadvertently make it expensive for unmarried couples—especially working-class couples—to pay. get married A report The fine for tying the knot is estimated to be 30%-40% of the couple’s income.

Knowing this, we can do a better job of aligning social policies with the importance of supporting the choice to marry.

Pay attention to implementation

Legislation and creating (or adjusting) policies are important (and hard work) but not enough. Good enforcement is also needed to ensure that laws and policies work as intended.

As previously noted, several states have enacted laws to reduce marriage license fees for couples who invest in premarital education. But these positive measures were not as effective as they could have been lassez-faire implementation.

Thus, legislators must devise effective mechanisms for implementing, refining and evaluating the policies. Utah has a distinct advantage here. with the active, in condition Marriage Commission And new Family office Reporting directly to the governor, Utah is equipped to effectively implement public policy to help couples establish and maintain healthy relationships and strong marriages. Other states should consider creating similar supporting infrastructure.

Do not forget the traditional economic policy

Some of the most important aspects of marriage are traditional public policies that create more fertile soil in which strong marriages can grow and thrive. For example, more and more couples are unable to afford decent housing. Therefore, policies that promote affordable housing increase marriage rates.

A college degree is also associated with more and better marriages, so higher educational attainment indirectly increases the number of couples who form and maintain healthy marriages. Strong economies that provide good jobs on a large scale make marriage easier. So smart economic policies are marriage policies in disguise.

In all of this, we must not forget that many families outside of marriage need support, which is where most of the public policy is spent on the family. Nothing I have presented here should be discounted Effective Policies to help these more vulnerable families achieve a self-sustaining future. But direct support for families in need must be accompanied by sensible marriage policies that indirectly reduce the chances of adults and children needing such support.

This is not a list of steps we can take to build a stronger marriage culture. But the policy ideas outlined here are both practical and cost-effective. They do not impose the authority of the state and therefore create it More Choice, no less.

Moreover, they are not politically divisive; There is huge public support for them. Surveys show that most Utahns (and Americans) think these types of policies are a good idea, with only 10% seeing it as a bad idea.

Being careless and taking UtahFamily miracle” After all, it’s not a smart policy, especially in the face of strong winds. Being proactive about taking sensible, low-cost public policy steps to support Utah marriages is an important way to avoid expensive and invasive state programs to help families. And it’s another way Utah can lead the nation and be a model for other states.

Alan J. Hawkins is the manager of the Utah Marriage Commission. Before that, he was a professor of family life at Brigham Young University for 33 years. These views are his own.

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