A Binghamton University study on government-funded programs aimed at promoting happy, healthy marriages among poor couples and couples of color found that most of these efforts are unsuccessful, possibly because many of the programs are based on research data gathered from White and middle-class marriages.
“Initially, the rationale for these programs came from policy makers and scholars, who homed in on the association between unmarried parents and poverty that is plainly obvious in the data,” says researcher Matthew Johnson. “This association led George W. Bush to make the promotion of healthy marriages a central plank of his domestic policy agenda, resulting in the implementation of the Healthy Marriage Initiatives. Barack Obama endorsed these initiatives, both as presidential candidate and as president. Now that the data on the success of these programs has started to roll in, the results have been very disappointing.”
Johnson says many programs “lack grounding in solid science and are allowed to run unchecked,” citing research from two recent multisite studies as proof that many of the federal programs that promote healthy marriage need to either be suspended or overhauled:
“The results indicated that the interventions had no effect in six of the cities, small beneficial effects in one city, and small detrimental effects in another city. The results of the other outcome study focused on 5,395 low-income married couples and found that those who received the intervention experienced very small improvements in relationship satisfaction, communication, and psychological health but no significant changes in relationship dissolution or cooperative parenting. And to add to it, the interventions didn’t come cheap, costing on average around $9,100 per couple.”
Says Johnson, “There is evidence that suggests poor women want to be married and understand the benefits of healthy marriages. But earning enough for basic household expenses, keeping their children safe and working with their children’s overburdened schools are much more urgent concerns, making the idea of focusing on marriage seem self-indulgent if not irrelevant to many poor parents. When faced with a myriad of social issues, building intimate relationships is just not high on their priority lists.”