Marriage data can reflect region's economic health

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Paul Merivil and Litisha Wil­lough­by moved in together while they were dating, but the decision never quite sat right with them.

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Litisha Willoughby and Paul Merivil are wed by the Rev. Betty Love at Love's Wedding Chapel in Augusta.   ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Litisha Willoughby and Paul Merivil are wed by the Rev. Betty Love at Love's Wedding Chapel in Augusta.

Marriage, they decided, was the answer.

“It’s the right thing in God’s eyes,” said Willoughby, who met her fiancé in March. They exchanged vows Thurs­day afternoon in a sunlit afternoon ceremony outside Love’s Wed­ding Chapel on Wrightsboro Road.

Marriage, say experts and studies, is key to the economic health of a community. Communities with a low marriage rate and a high rate of single-parent households, such as Rich­mond County, typically have a corresponding high level of poverty.

In Richmond County, 47 percent of the single-woman households with children younger than 18 are below the poverty level, higher than the state average of nearly 39 percent. The rate climbs to 53 percent when the children are younger than 5.

The higher poverty rate is attributed to both lower education levels of single mothers and lost income because of absent fathers.

In contrast, just 10 percent of married couples with children live in poverty in Richmond County. Compared with Aiken and Columbia counties, Richmond has the fewest households headed by married couples at 36 percent. The percentage is 63 percent in Columbia County and 51 percent in Aiken County.

“There’s a lot of research out that ties marriage to financial stability, both for the individual and for us as a society,” said Sheila Weber, the executive director of National Mar­riage Week USA, which started Feb. 7 and ends Tuesday. “With marriage, there’s less teen pregnancy, less trouble in schools, less trouble with the law. Forty percent of Ameri­can babies today are born out of wedlock. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t believe there’s a cost attached to that.”

Families fractured by divorce or unwed childbearing cost Georgia taxpayers at least $1.46 billion each year, according to a 2008 study by the Georgia Family Council and a national research group. The total includes foregone tax revenues; costs on the justice system; and the expense of some government programs, including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, child welfare programs and school lunch and breakfast programs.

The trends are reflected across other local municipalities. In Aiken County, 45 percent of single mothers live in poverty, but just 10 percent of married couples with children do. In Columbia County, those rates are 24 percent and 3 percent.

DEVON HARRIS SEES the impact of broken families in his work as a gang intervention specialist at Full Circle Refuge, a youth ministry that offers mentoring to at-risk youth and those re-entering the community from the juvenile justice system.

“Right now, every kid I work with comes from a single-parent home,” he said. “The majority of them don’t have a dad at home, but some of them are also being raised by a grandparent.”

Single women raising children account for a quarter of Georgia’s 1,135,790 households with children younger than 18.

They account for nearly one half of households with children in Richmond County, one-third of households with children in Aiken County, and one-fifth of households with children in Columbia County.

Cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood have all grown more prevalent, while marriage rates have been in decline for four decades.

In 1960, 72 percent of adults in the U.S. were married; today just 51 percent are, according to census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.

OFTEN, THOSE IN serious relationships must be convinced of the benefits of marriage before they’re willing to take the leap, said Susan Swanson, the owner of the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center, which offers a class on healthy marriages.

Every Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., men and women gather at the center’s downtown location for the relationship course. For many, the group offers a safe place to air concerns about marriage.

“We have to rebuild the concept of marriage in their minds,” Swanson said. “They’re afraid of marriage after watching their parents get divorced … For the first time in their life, they’re seeing marriage as a positive.”

Nationally, 9.6 percent of men and 12.6 percent of women are divorced.

The rates are higher in Richmond County, where 12.3 percent of men and 14.9 percent of women are divorced, but lower in Columbia County, where 7.7 percent of men and 11.9 percent of women are divorced.

In Aiken, the men’s rate is slightly higher than the national average, at 9.8 percent, but the rate for women is lower, at 11.3 percent.

Roger Rollins, the executive director of the Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, believes the divorce rate could be lowered if more couples sought programs and training that taught them how to “stay married.”

“You have to teach people how to be married. It’s not a given,” he said. “You don’t have to have any training to get married or have kids. They’re the two most difficult things in life, and people aren’t being equipped to do them well. It’s got to be OK to say ‘My marriage is in trouble.’ It’s got to be OK to say, ‘We need help.’”

The council offers premarital counseling, mentoring programs for husbands and wives, and seminars on healthy relationships.

“We feel the impact of broken marriages, even if we don’t see them, even when we think ‘not on my street,’ or, ‘not in my backyard,” Rol­lins said. “When I look at society today, I see it’s falling apart. When marriages fail, society fails.”



  • Richmond County: 47.4 percent
  • Columbia County: 23.5 percent
  • Aiken County: 44.5 percent


  • Richmond County: 9.9 percent
  • Columbia County: 2.7 percent
  • Aiken County: 9.8 percent


  • Richmond County: 45.9 percent
  • Columbia County: 19.2 percent
  • Aiken County: 29.7 percent


  • 56 percent of the women having babies in Richmond County are unmarried
  • 21.2 percent of the women having babies in Columbia County are unmarried
  • 52.5 percent of the women having babies in Aiken County are unmarried


Richmond County

  • 12.3 percent of men
  • 14.9 percent of women

Columbia County

  • 7.7 percent of men
  • 11.9 percent of women

Aiken County

  • 9.8 percent of men
  • 11.3 percent of women


Richmond County

  • 40.5 percent of men
  • 35.8 percent of women

Columbia County

  • 25.8 percent of men
  • 21.9 percent of women

Aiken County

  • 29.9 percent of men
  • 25.3 percent of women

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010 American Community Survey

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SCV Sam 02/11/12 - 07:25 pm
I would wish to see the stats

I would wish to see the stats from say 1950 before permissiveness and pornography and promiscuity and the "feel good" pleasure culture's corrosion took hold. Back then state laws were in place and enforced in line with God's law for Biblical marriage and against adultery, divorce, fornication, abortion, "birth control", sodomy and immorality--and people paid the price if they strayed. Now Hollyweird and the poison of "political correctness" call evil good and make right look wrong.

Look at the stats for Richmond county never married and tell yourself how much crime and poverty result from not following God's plan for man. A sad sobering and also encouraging story.

Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 02/11/12 - 07:26 pm
Tell it like it is. As my

Tell it like it is.

As my late Father used to say, "If you're man enough to make a baby, be man enough to raise your child."

raul 02/11/12 - 11:03 pm
Nobody has to get married,

Nobody has to get married, just quit cranking out all those babies. More time for clubbin'

corgimom 02/12/12 - 07:08 am
SCV Sam, just so you know,

SCV Sam, just so you know, the divorce rate in the 1940's was very, very high- because of WWII.

And people had porn, people committed adultery, people had abortions, people used birth control, etc. It just wasn't out in the open like it is now.

What HAS changed, is out of wedlock pregnancies. There were still lots of them, but people got married when the woman became pregnant. Now very few of them get married.

Other than that, people are people, and they haven't really changed, they just don't sneak around like they used to.

soldout 02/13/12 - 12:37 am
scv; good words. They didn't

scv; good words. They didn't need research for this; just read the Bible. Sin will take us further than we wanted to go and cost us more than we wanted to pay. Sin is stupid and expensive. Whatever the question; God and the Word are always the answer.

seenitB4 02/12/12 - 11:06 am
corgi has it right..... This

corgi has it right.....

This is a takes 2 to make a baby---it takes 2 to raise a baby....put the man back in the house with the youguns.....take away the freebies....that would solve a lot of problems in the USA--IMHO

wondersnevercease 02/12/12 - 12:16 pm
Pretty simple really.. "If

Pretty simple really..

"If you will not not make her a wife...then don't make her a Mother"................................(C&P)

allhans 02/12/12 - 12:40 pm
There are programs offered

There are programs offered to a single mother that is not offered to those who are married.

Looking for cause and effect?

Jane18 02/12/12 - 02:04 pm
Congratulations Paul and

Congratulations Paul and Litisha! My best advice is: remember why you fell in love with each other and no matter what, talk, talk, talk, to each other about everything.

cozzster 02/13/12 - 02:55 am
I agree with Craig. Tell it

I agree with Craig. Tell it like it is. More to that, however, is the fact that many out of wedlock pregnancies come from impoverished neighborhoods where no one was raised with responsibility and the cycle repeats. Impoverished mom has 12 kids that the state pays for because dad is in jail and she can't get a job and in turn those 12 kids all do the same and we are where we are now. There is so much that plays into this as mentioned above no one sneaks around anymore, everyone is promiscuous and there is no responsibility within generations of today. It is not hard to use a condom or birth control, in many places the state pays for that too so you can get it free. Just no responsibility and it is sadly unfortunate for those kids who grow up to be repeats of their parents and continue to add to the mess.

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