Since 2005 the government has been funding programs to encourage people to marry. The original budget of the program was $750 million dollars. One aspect of this program is an advertising campaign intended to promote the idea of marriage. This operation has a budget of $1.25 million a year and is currently funded for four years. In light of the economic woes, it strikes some people as wasting money. Obviously, the folks who are getting the tax dollars dumped into their bank accounts to promote marriage do not consider it a waste, but they would be a rather biased group.
The two main motivations (aside from financial) for this promotion are that marriage rates are down and that it is alleged that the state has an interest in people getting married.
It is true that marriage rates have declined. In 1986 the marriage rate was 10 marriages per 1,000 people. Currently, the number is put at 7.1 per 1,000 people. This is a slight decline, but is still a decline. Whether this is something the state should do something about is, of course, another matter.
As noted above, spending even a mere $5 million on an advertising campaign for marriage seems wasteful in these tough economic times. While it might seem like a drop in the sea of federal spending, that money would go a long way if properly spent. As such, it can be seen as a bad idea.
There is also the question of whether the state has any business promoting marriage. On one hand, marriage is supposed to have various benefits for people and it can be argued that the state should encourage people to do what is good for them. After all, the state does try to motivate people to be healthy. Of course, that merely raises the question of whether the state should be doing that sort of thing as well. On the other hand, marriage would seem to be a personal choice and one that the state should not be pushing.
Two related concerns are whether there is any need to advertise the benefits of marriage and whether such advertising will work or not. People are, presumably, aware that marriage is an option and most people are probably vaguely aware of the alleged benefits of marriage. As such, it is not clear that the advertising is needed. Further, it is not clear that such advertising will deliver an adequate return. Will people who would otherwise remain single chose to marry because of the advertising? This seems unlikely in most cases. After all, it seems unlikely that people are against marriage because they are simply unaware of the alleged benefits and that they would be more inclined to do so on the basis of a government ad. It would also be instructive to consider other governmental advertising campaigns and their level of success.
It can, however, be countered that advertising does work to sell products and that marriage should be no exception. Also, perhaps there are some people who will chose to marry either after a rational calculation of the benefits they learn about or because they are swayed by the advertising. However, I suspect that the factors that are (allegedly) pushing down the marriage rate are considerably stronger than the power of government advertising. Ironically, there seems to be a huge demand for marriage among same sex couples. If the state is so concerned about boosting the marriage rate, then there seems to be an obvious solution.
The government can, of course, promote marriage by offering even more benefits to married couples such as tax incentives and perhaps some free stuff. Of course, that would seem to be unfair to people who chose to remain single.
As to why the state has an interest in marriage, the obvious answer is that it does not. This is because the state is a mere fiction. Specific people have an interest in marriage for various reasons and that is what the state’s alleged interest boils down to. Some people push marriage on religious and other normative grounds. Other people push it based on the alleged social and individual goods. Of course, if marriage is so good and valuable, then there would really be little need for tax payer money to be used to promote it.
My own view is that the state should make me an offer. I’ll start the process by asking for a better tax break, a tax refund, a mortgage credit, and a year of World of Warcraft. Naturally, my wife-to-be will have her own expectations.