Cost of Family Fragmentation to Taxpayers

Tom Shipka

The Institute for American Values and three other groups dedicated to strengthening the family commissioned a study which was published recently. It is entitled The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: A Report to the Nation. (1) The principal investigator is economist Benjamin Scafidi. The report confirms that due to divorce and unwed childbearing, the institution of the family is in trouble in America, and the fragmented family comes with a staggering price tag which the report estimates, conservatively, at $112 billion a year. (2)
Although the rate of divorce in the United States has moderated in recent years, it is still very high. Moreover, one of three children born in America today is born outside of wedlock. 25% of non-Hispanic white babies are born to single mothers, 46% of Hispanic babies are born to single mothers, and 69% of African-American babies are born to single mothers. (p. 7) Over the past forty years, the proportion of children in America living with two married parents dropped by 17% from 85% to 68%. (p. 7)
One reason for the huge costs to taxpayers cited in the report is the link between single mothers and poverty. A huge percentage of single mothers and their children qualify for a variety of federal, state, and local programs that serve the poor. Among these programs is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Stamps, Housing Assistance, Medicaid, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Women, Infants, and Children Assistance (WIC), the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Head Start, and school breakfast and lunch programs. (pp. 12-13) According to the report, only 1 percent of women with an intact first marriage live in poverty while more than 24 percent of divorced mothers live in poverty. (p. 10) Further, if 60 percent of the single mothers were married, the number of people in poverty would decline by 31.7 percent and the number of children in poverty would decline by 36.1 percent. (p. 14) Surprisingly, lower-income married couples are far less likely to choose to use government benefits for which they are eligible than single-mother households. (p. 19)
Moreover, there is a link between single-mother households and crime, triggering huge costs in the criminal justice system. Boys raised in single-parent households are more than twice as likely to commit crimes than boys raised in married households. (p. 16, p. 28) Further, children from single-parent households, once adults, are more likely to be criminals than children raised in married households (p. 16)
Also, girls born in poverty are more likely to drop out of school, become pregnant as teenagers, and live unmarried than girls from intact marriage households. (p. 16) This report teaches us two lessons. Firstly, we Americans have to redouble our efforts to strengthen the family by reducing unnecessary divorce and childbearing and secondly, we should stop demonizing gay couples as a threat to the institution of marriage. Marriage in America has suffered not because gay couples, a tiny fraction of the population, seek civil unions or legal marriages but because millions of heterosexuals have failed to practice safe sex or have failed to build and maintain stable marriages. (3)


  1. The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: A Report to the Nation, Benjamin Scafidi, Principal Investigator, © 2008 by Georgia Family Council and the Institute for American Values. Other sponsors are the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest. See Subsequent references to this document will be by page number.
  2. Of this amount, the federal government spends $70.1, the states spend $33.3 billion, and local governments spend $8.5 billion. Ohio ranks fourth among the states, spending $2.7 billion a year, while Pennsylvania ranks fifth, spending $2.3 billion. (p. 7)
  3. The report does not say that all marriages must be saved. It acknowledges that about one-third of marriages ending in divorce are "high-conflict" marriages and that children in such families are usually "better off when those marriages end." (p. 12)