A report released in February by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada relates marriage to income level which finds that there is a correlation between being married and family income.

The Marriage Gap Between Rich and Poor Canadians by Philip Cross and Peter Jon Mitchell used data from the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics to determine that married and common-law couples, which are grouped together because that is how most of the data is available, accounted for only 12.1 per cent of those in the lowest income quartile family units in 2011, as opposed to 48.8 per cent in middle class families and 86.3 per cent in the highest income quartile.

Since 1976, the gap has grown. In 1976, the gap between the upper and lower classes was at 70 percentage points – 95 per cent of families in the upper class were married while just 25 per cent in the lowest income class — which expanded to 74 points in 2011 (86 compared to 12 per cent). Meanwhile, there was a 27 point gap between the upper and middle classes in 1976 and a 37 point gap between the two in 2011.

While marriage rates has been in decline across all classes throughout this period, although it was not as severe among upper-income individuals and it continues to correlate to total family income.

There has been a recent dip and rebound in marriage and common-law rates among all income groups, possibly due to the recession the authors speculate. Whatever the reason, households without unattached couples tend to have less total income, therefore increasing income inequality in society.

For lower-income families, most of the decline in marriage occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Common-law arrangements were least popular among low-income families, accounting for 2 per cent of couples in 2011. This is in contrast to middle and upper income couples, who had common-law rates of 9 and 13.4 per cent, respectively.

“Oftentimes, discussion of how to help families avoids substantive issues like family structure,” states the report. “And yet, marriage is the most stable foundation for families. It is both a powerful wealth creator and a protector against poverty.” Some benefits include support from an expanded network of family and friends during a crisis, the ability to divide paid and unpaid labour between the parents, increased ability to build wealth, and increased college graduation rates among children.

Many previous studies have found that marriage is an economic benefit. Between the ages of 1 and 17, 81 per cent of children living in nonmarried households will experience poverty, as opposed to only 22 per cent of children in married households, according to “The Economic Risk of Childhood in America: Estimating the Probability of Poverty Across the Formative Years,” published in 1999 in the Journal of Marriage and Family. “Although marriage as an institution serves to dramatically increase the likelihood of achieving economic affluence at some point during the life course, this is particularly the case for women,” conclude the authors of “Does Marriage Increase the Odds of Affluence? Exploring the Life Course Probabilities” in the November 2003 edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family. In “Is Marriage a Panacea? Union Formation among Economically Disadvantaged Unwed Mothers” from the February 2013 issue of Social Problems, the authors used the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth to find that American women who gave birth to their first child while unmarried were 3.38 times likelier to be poor.

“Academics and think tanks in the US have examined the correlations between marriage, the parenting gap, and economic well-being,” Mitchell and IMFC executive director Andrea Mrozek say in the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse. “Sadly, the Canadian dialogue on marriage and economic prosperity is many miles … behind the American conversation. We hope that this research will begin to change that.”

While admitting that “Marriage is not a silver bullet for social problems,” Mitchell and Cross say in their study, “Canadian policymakers should be concerned about the health of marriage because of its contribution to economic stability and human flourishing.”