WASHINGTON, D.C., September 13, 2012, ( – A new study shows marriage is good for children’s material prosperity, as well as their emotional and spiritual growth.

“The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line,” Heritage Foundation researcher Robert Rector wrote in the study, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty.”

Being in an intact home reduces a child’s chances of living in poverty by 82 percent. While 37 percent of children in unmarried families were below the poverty level, less than seven percent of children in homes with both a mother and a father suffered the same fate.

Even when comparing equally well-educated families, marriage boosted a child’s chance of living above the poverty line by 75 percent. The income gap held true among all ethnic groups.

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“Being married has roughly the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent’s education has,” wrote Rector, who is a senior research fellow at the D.C.-based conservative think tank.

His findings challenge dominant stereotypes about illegitimacy. Although 40 percent of births now take place outside wedlock, only 7.7 percent occurred to girls under age 18. The vast majority of such children are born to women in their 20s.

“In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education,” Rector found, but “in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high school degree or less.”

The nation’s fractured marriage cost all Americans, with welfare programs to single-parent homes costing taxpayers $330 billion annually – $30,000 for each American.

Rector’s findings confirm a host of social science data reported by experts ranging from Dr. Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia, to Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, to a recent article published in the New York Times

“Wherever you look—whether in the streets or the social science research—you’ll find confirmation that the breakdown of the family is correlated with societal ills such as children living in poverty,” wrote Joe Carter of the Acton Institute. “We know the cause and we know the cure. Yet rather than effectively encouraging marriage, our government pretends that welfare can be a suitable substitute for the absence of mothers and fathers in the home.”

The full report may be read here

For more information, visit the Heritage Foundation.