Cause and Effect

One of the first rules of academic research is: don’t confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because two things are related doesn’t mean that one of them caused the other.

Of course, sometimes there is correlation and causation; one thing did cause the other. In those cases, the trick is figuring out which is cause and which is effect.

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, economics reporter Annie Lowery took a closer look at the conventional wisdom that marriage “lifts children and families out of poverty.” As she notes, no one disputes the fact that “where marriage is, poverty tends not to be.” There is a definite correlation between marriage and a whole host of positive outcomes for children and families.

That, however, doesn’t tell us that marriage cures poverty. Indeed, recent research suggests we’ve gotten the equation backwards. Living in poverty is a barrier to getting and staying married.  W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, puts the issue rather starkly: “Unless we improve the fortunes of poor working people, particularly poor working men, we aren’t going to see marriage coming back.”

The research strongly suggests that the biggest problem facing impoverished people isn’t the fact that they’re single. It’s–wait for it–not enough money. And until that problem is addressed, all the millions of dollars spent on programs offering “relationship counseling” and marriage promotion might just as well be flushed down the commode.

Maybe the millions of dollars going to the various providers of “faith-based” marital advice and middle-class “values” counseling might better be spent on ameliorating poverty. Love is grand, but food comes first.


  1. Annie Lowery probably also believes in fairy tales of she believes marriage reduces poverty. She needs to stop reading other people’s articles, charts, printouts, pseudo-religious blathering and do some investigative research. This would entail getting up off her butt, shut down her computer and get out with the people; married and unmarried, poor and learn how those who are surviving this economy manage to do this. Not even that industrious ant, who toiled while the grasshopper played, would be much better off than the grasshopper in this economy. I received a whopping $13 monthly increase on my Social Security; this amounts to $2.25 weekly. My utiities alone have increased more than that, I won’t mention food prices, and I have only myself to take care of. The GOP, being primarily responsible for not continuing unemployment benefits, are more responsible for voting NO on any and all possible job creation bills that come before them. There is a “causation” that could be remedied but won’t be as long as the GOP lives under Tea Party rule.

    As for these “faith based” marital advice and middle-class values counseling; look into the Indianapolis Catholic Archdiocese current situation regarding four of their long established east-side churches, two with schools. They have “investigated” these four churches and will be making a decision to continue funding any or all of them, combine two-and-two, or close all of them and build one new church somewhere, somehow on the east-side. One of the churches was called to task for cutting their neighborhood assistance programs. This has been done due to lack of funds and contributions as the neighborhood around the church/school has deteriorated drastically and the city has allowed this to happen. The Catholic church maintains churches in wealthy areas and the millions spent on the Vatican is mind-boggling but – they have no money to help poor congregants in deteriorating neighborhoods because they can’t afford it. Bulls**t! As the old saying goes, “They have more money than God.”

  2. I’m not prepared to kick Ms Lowery and her New York Times Magazine article under the bus nor am I prepared to excerpt a couple of paragraphs from Wilcox and his National Marriage Project that appear to be plucked out of context to indicate that ‘not enough money’ is the sole issue with marriage instability in those currently living in poverty as per the Federal government. As with most things, simple answers do not ameliorate complex issues.

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