Want to fix the national, even the global, economy? Fix the family.
This is a marriage column, not an economics forum, but sometimes the two categories overlap in surprising ways. Most recently this overlap is highlighted because of a new report "The Sustainable Demographic Dividend: What Do Marriage and Fertility Have To Do With the Economy?" issued by the National Marriage Project at University of Virginia.
Specifically, seven economic sectors – child care, life insurance and personal insurance, household products and services, health care, food, home maintenance and services, and pets and toys -- experience growth directly linked to people getting married and having children and also suffer when marriage and fertility rates fall.
It's not the change in the fertility rate alone, but how close a country's rate is to the "replacement rate" of 2.1 children per woman, the minimum level for sustaining a population over time.
So on this basis, the report notes a number of the world's leading economies either currently are or soon will be facing "major demographic challenges," including Japan, Greece, Italy, and China because their fertility rates have or soon will fall below the replacement rate.
But there's a bigger-picture component to the link between economies and marriage/fertility that goes beyond individual economic sectors. According to Brad Wilcox, the report's lead researcher, economies are dependent on strong families for three key reasons: families provide a future customer base, supply future workers with the required "human and social capital," and give men "an incentive to work harder in the labor force."
And while that may sound like the "man brings home the bacon" kind of sexist comment, research over time has demonstrated that married men consistently make more money than single men.
So according to the National Marriage Project's report, our apparently flippant remark, "fix the family," is indeed the long-term solution to economic health on both the national and international scales.
In "The Empty Cradle," an article released in conjunction with the Sustainable Demographic Dividend report, the researchers note "Sustainable families don't just reproduce themselves; they also raise the next generation with the requisite virtues and human capital to flourish as adult citizens, employees, and consumers."
The fix is obviously not as simple as having cohabiting couples get a marriage license. As we noted a couple of years ago, other reports have suggested that the national cost of divorce is $28 billion a year. So the trick is in developing healthy marriages, not just marriages.