When it comes to the health of the Oklahoma economy, virtually all eyes have been on the struggling energy sector. That’s because recent declines in oil prices have exacted a toll on Oklahoma’s economy.

But policymakers, civic leaders and ordinary Sooners shouldn’t lose sight of another factor dampening Oklahoma’s fortunes: the health of Oklahoma’s families. The state is ranked 38th in the nation in its share of children being raised by married parents, with only 66 percent of Sooner children living in a home headed by married parents. This matters because fragile families, especially ones headed by single parents, hinder economic growth, family prosperity and the health of the American Dream.

“Strong Families, Prosperous States,” a report I recently coauthored, found that states with more families headed by married parents enjoyed significantly higher levels of economic growth, family median income, and less child poverty, compared with states with fewer married-parent families. Indeed, if Oklahoma enjoyed its 1980-levels of married parenthood, its per capita GDP would be 2.5 percent higher, its median family income would be 5.6 percent higher, and its child poverty rate would be 8.5 percent lower. What’s clear from the data is that Oklahoma’s economy would be in better shape if Sooner families were stronger.

Married parent families matter for at least four reasons. First, men who get and stay married are more likely to work harder, work smarter and more successfully, pulling in between 10 percent and 20 percent more in income than their comparable single peers. Men who are married with children are about 13 percentage points more likely to be in the labor force, compared with men who are childless and unmarried.

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