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March 2006Vol. 7, No. 2Supporting Marriage to Improve Child Well-Being

Two recent articles reflect the national focus on supporting healthy marriages in order to strengthen families and improve child well-being.

Marriage and Relationship Education Programs

As part of the effort to support healthy marriages, many States and jurisdictions are looking to marriage and relationship education (MRE) programs developed for specific populations. Many of these newer programs are tailored for low-income parents, unwed parents, or racial or ethnic minorities, and they cover such topics as parenting, communication, domestic violence, and accessing services.

A recent policy brief from the Family Strengthening Policy Center (FSPC) explores the potential of these programs to strengthen families and improve the lives of children. The FSPC policy brief examines the differences between traditional MRE programs and newer programs and presents case studies of four MRE programs being piloted in different areas of the country.

The policy brief notes that while many studies have shown a correlation between healthy marriages and positive and protective benefits for children, the use of MRE has not been rigorously evaluated and remains a promising practice. Recommendations are provided for governments and family services agencies that want to implement MRE programs.

Marriage and Relationship Education: Will It Reduce Poverty and Strengthen Families? is available on the website of the National Human Services Assembly: (PDF 936 KB)

Expectations of Unmarried Parents

One population targeted by MRE programs is low-income, unmarried new parents and parents-to-be. Reasons for the drop in the marriage rate for this group were the focus of a recent article in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The authors used survey data and interviews to discover why low-income parents who say that they plan to marry at the time their child is born do not follow through on their plans.

When interviewed about why they remained unmarried 1 year after their child was born, most parents revealed a number of financial and relationship prerequisites that they felt needed to be met first. They cited financial concerns, worries about the quality of the relationship, and fear of divorce as reasons not to marry.

In discussing their findings, the authors note that no parents mentioned the impact of their choices on their children. The parents tended to view marriage and childrearing as two separate decisions, and their prerequisites for marriage, such as being financially stable, did not apply to parenthood. None of the parents believed that having a child together was a reason for marriage, nor did any parents discuss the potential advantages that their marriage might provide to their child.

The authors discuss the results in terms of cultural explanations that affect decision-making by low-income parents.

"High Hopes but Even Higher Expectations: The Retreat From Marriage Among Low-Income Couples," by C. M. Gibson-Davis, K. Edin, and S. McLanahan, is available in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family:

Related Item

Children's Bureau Express last explored the impact of marriage on child well-being in "ACF Releases New Report on Healthy Marriage Initiative" (July/August 2005).