There are four steps you can take in a specific order to reduce the chances your family will ever live in poverty. They are:

  1. Graduate from high school.
  2. Get married.
  3. Have children after you are married.
  4. Stay married.

If you do those four things in that order, the chances you and your children will live in poverty are reduced by 82%. If you go on to graduate from college, the chances drop even more drastically.

Marriage Prevents Poverty

A lot of people will say, “Well that’s obvious. Education is the key to escaping poverty. If you graduate from high school, your chances of living in poverty are bound to go down.” There is another factor that is also important, however: Marital status.

Last year Heritage Foundation published an exhaustive report identifying marriage, in addition to education, as a determining factor in whether or not a family lives in poverty. They write, “being married has the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent’s level of education has.”

According to calculations based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s published figures, 71% of poor families with children are not married. The overwhelming majority of non-poor families with children are married.

Now, single parents are less likely to finish their education than others. However, Heritage Foundation found that even a married high school dropout was less than half as likely to raise a family in poverty as an unmarried high school dropout with children. In other words, education isn’t the only predictor for living in poverty; marital status is, too. 

Heritage Foundation also noted in the report,

“The effect of married fathers on child outcomes can be quite pronounced. For example, examination of families with the same race and same parental education  shows that, when compared to intact married families, children from single-parent homes are:

  • More than twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime;
  • Twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems;
  • Roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school; and
  • A third more likely to drop out before completing high school.”

By increasing the their chances of getting a good education, marriage makes it less likely children will grow up to live in poverty.

What Kind of Marriage?

This report from Heritage Foundation dovetails nicely with other studies and reports published recently on marriage and families: Namely that kids don’t just need two “married” parents of any gender, but a married mom and dad.

As we told you last week, for instance, a recent study out of Canada shows “children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite sex couples.” Some people may not want to hear it, but the fact is kids need a married mother and father.


Education is an important factor in combating poverty, but encouraging people to get married and stay married is just as important, if not more so. Even a person who drops out of high school is significantly less likely to raise a family in poverty if he or she is married.

Finish high school; then get married; then have children; and then stay married. If you do those four things in that order, chances are you won’t have to worry about living in poverty. Get the order wrong — or skip one of the first two steps — and your chances only go up from there.

Click here to read Heritage Foundation’s full report, Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty.