.- The “crushing burden” of student loans delays marriage and childbirth and encourages cohabitation, family policy expert Allan Carlson said in a lecture on Friday. He urged a pro-family debt relief program to help alleviate the financial stresses student loans can cause.Carlson, who is President of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, spoke at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
“In cultures around the world and throughout recorded history, the common practice has been to use dowries (the property brought by young women into their marriages) and other marital gifts to provide newlyweds with working capital at the beginning of their marriage,” Carlson wrote in a 2005 paper. “This cultural strategy has aimed at encouraging marriage, stable homes, and the birth of children.”
However, the recent practice of burdening young adults with substantial educational debt appears to significantly discourage marriage and childbirth.
At the FRC on Friday, Carlson cited a 2002 survey indicating that 14 percent of indebted students delayed marriage because of their loans, while 21 percent delayed having children. In 1988 these numbers were nine and 12 percent, respectively.
This debt can also cause problems in marriages. One survey which examined 41 marital problems and found that “debt brought into marriage” was the third most problematic issue facing newlyweds. Among respondents who had no children, debt was the second most problematic problem. Among respondents ages 29 and below, debt was named the most problematic issue.
Carlson suggested student loan debt has encouraged a “retreat” from marriage.
The marriage rate for women aged 20-24 declined 41.4 percent between 1984 and 2004. The rate for women aged 25-29 declined 19.4 percent. For men, the marriage rate in those cohorts declined 45.5 percent and 29.6 percent, respectively.
Cohabiting couples have increased from 1.6 million in 1980 to 5.1 million in 2004. This has significant effect on the family, as cohabiting couples are less stable, more prone to domestic violence and more prone to infidelity even after they marry. Children of cohabiting couples show the same level of well-being as children of single mothers, a much poorer well-being than children of married parents.
Carlson added that women who receive a college degree or above tend to remain childless compared to those without a university degree. The higher a woman’s qualifications, the less likely she is to marry or cohabitate.
If these women do marry, they are more likely to marry college-educated men. This means their debt obligation is likely to be twice as high as individual debt.
Student loan debt also has effects on health care costs, Carlson noted in the question and answer session after his lecture. Doctors who exit medical school with massive debt must insist on a large income to repay it. This pressures doctors to prefer specialized fields which pay more than general practice.
He added that young couples’ unrealistic expectations, like the supposed need for a $40,000 wedding or an expensive first home, also discourage marriage. However, he suggested, the decline in housing prices could help improve the marriage rate.
To assist young married couples and encourage childbirth, Carlson proposed that for each child born or adopted, the federal government pay off 25 percent of married parents’ outstanding student debt, up to $5,000 each for mother and father.