Keeping marriages together is key to combating poverty


Question: I’ve heard some about your organization. I guess helping people with their marriages is a good thing. But wouldn’t all that effort be better directed toward something more important, like combating poverty?

Jim: Thanks for asking this. In a limited venue like this column, I’d summarize our perspective with an illustration. The late Southern novelist Pat Conroy described a broken marriage best when he said, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization.” He was absolutely right.

Divorce doesn’t just split up a husband and wife or separate kids from their parents. The breakdown of the family is one of the most overlooked reasons for the high poverty rate in America.

I’ve experienced the reality of that firsthand. My own father abandoned our family when I was just 5 years old. Our world fell apart. We quickly slipped into poverty. My mother was forced to work full-time as a waitress to make ends meet. So not only did I stop seeing my father regularly, but my mom was not home in the afternoons and evenings, and I was off to school in the mornings before she woke up. That was our routine. It’s the routine for thousands of other families as well.

Consider some of these factors: Families with children that were not poor before the divorce see their income drop as much as 50 percent afterward. Almost half of the parents with children who go through a divorce drop below the poverty line. In general, children of divorced parents perform more poorly in reading, spelling and math. They also are more likely to repeat a grade and to have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation. Low education rates perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

It doesn’t get reported in the media very often, but if we want to decrease poverty, we need to save marriages. Stable families form the bedrock of any society. That’s part of why we do what we do.


Question: My boyfriend and I want to get married eventually, but we’ve been told that living together for a few years will help us prepare before making things “official.” What do you think?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Living together almost seems to have become the new engagement. The problem is that research shows the divorce rates for those who live together before marriage are significantly higher than for those who don’t.

Cohabitation is a risky venture because there’s no commitment holding the relationship together. It’s essentially two people saying to one another, “I’ll hang out with you as long as you make me happy.” That’s a shaky foundation to build a life on. It infuses doubt and mistrust into the very DNA of your relationship from the get-go. In other words, you’re sabotaging your marriage before you even walk down the aisle.

I think a lot of young adults are choosing to live together because they’re afraid to commit. Maybe their parents divorced, or they’ve been swayed by negative messages about marriage in the culture. Whatever the reason, I believe these couples want to get married and stay married.

The biggest problem is most don’t know how to prepare for marriage properly. They don’t realize they can learn how to build a successful relationship. And that’s too bad because premarital counseling can make a lifetime of difference.

If you doubt that, consider this: Eighty percent of couples who get quality premarital training stay married. That percentage of success shows that there is a way for couples to make a lasting commitment to one another. We have loads of resources and information available to help your relationship thrive at

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Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at