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Dec/Jan 2003Vol. 3, No. 10New Studies Show Marriage Improves Living Standards for Children

Three new studies by Robert I. Lerman, director of the Labor and Social Policy Center at the Urban Institute, reveal that marriage significantly improves the living standards of mothers and their children. These studies strengthen the case for policies that promote, or at least avoid discouraging, marriage.

The studies, published in July 2002 and funded by a grant from HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, show families with two married parents experience more stable home environments and fewer years in poverty. These gains were relative not only to one-parent families with no other adult present, but also to cohabiting parents and to one-parent families with other adults present. Gains from marriage held even when controlling for other factors such as education, race, immigrant status, age, and number of children.

Significant findings:

  • Poverty rates of cohabiting couple parents were found to be double those of married parents; single parents with a second adult in the household had poverty rates triple those of married parents.
  • The effects of marriage were most consistently significant for families with incomes 1 to 2 times the poverty level and for black households below 150 percent of the poverty line.
  • Women who married after conception but before first birth did significantly better economically than women who had a child but did not marry. Women who married had fewer years in poverty and overall poverty rates less than half those of women who did not marry.

The three studies, Married and Unmarried Parenthood and Economic Well-being: A Dynamic Analysis of a Recent Cohort, How do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children?, and Impacts of Marital Status and Parental Presence on the Material Hardship of Families with Children?, can all be found on the Urban Institute website at Template.cfm?Section=ByTopic&NavMenuID=62&template=/ TaggedContent/ViewPublication.cfm&PublicationID=7858 or from the Urban Institute publication sales office at 202-261-5687 or toll-free at 1-877-UIPRESS.

Related items:

Read other related articles from the following issues of Children's Bureau Express (

  • "Strengthening Couples, Marriages in Low-Income Communities" (May 2002)
  • "Journal Devotes Issue to Marriage as a Child-Centered Institution" (November/December 2001)