Academic journal article Family Relations

Marriageable Women: A Focus on Participants in a Community Healthy Marriage Program

Academic journal article Family Relations

Marriageable Women: A Focus on Participants in a Community Healthy Marriage Program

Article excerpt

Although disadvantaged women are the targets of marriage programs, little attention has been paid to women's marriage constraints and their views of marriage. Drawing on an exchange framework and using qualitative data collected from single women participating in a marriage initiative, we introduce the concept of marriageable women-the notion that certain limitations may make women poor marriage partners. Like their male counterparts, we find women also possess qualities that are not considered assets in the marriage market, such as economic constraints, mental and physical health issues, substance use, multiple partner fertility, and gender distrust. We also consider how women participating in a marriage program frame their marriage options, whereas a few opt out of the marriage market altogether.

Key Words: tow-income families, marriage, marriage enrichment.

A popular explanation for the decline in marriage is the lack of marriageable men, specifically among disadvantaged populations (Wilson, 1987). Certainly, the lack of marriageable men (defined in terms of employment) alone does not explain changes in marriage patterns (McLaughlin & Lichter, 1997), although it is certainly tied to lower odds of marrying (Edin, 2000; Lichter, Anderson, & Hayward, 1995). The problems faced by young men and women in inner-city neighborhoods include a lack of employment prospects, poor education opportunities, substance abuse, and involvement in the criminal justice system. These factors are undoubtedly interrelated and cumulative in nature. For example, issues surrounding substance abuse may prevent men from engaging in more stable economic activities and potentially lead to problems with incarceration and domestic violence. Graefe and Lichter (2007) referred to women's marriageableability in terms of their fertility history, human capital, and economic self-sufficiency. Waller (2002) found that single mothers are aware of these marriageability limitations and may avoid marriage to prevent interacting with men who may destabilize their families.

Coexisting with scholarly research is new federally and state funded healthy marriage programs established across the country. The government has attempted to buttress marriage by providing financial and political support for initiatives that reinforce stable marriages and relationships, particularly targeting poor and disadvantaged groups. In 2002 President Bush supported the Healthy Marriage Initiative ("to help couples develop the skills and knowledge to form and sustain healthy marriages"), and in 2006 over $500 million was appropriated toward this initiative (DHHS, 2005). These programs often focus on identifying characteristics of "good' ' marriage partners and providing tools to obtain and sustain healthy relationships and marriages. Little work, however, has focused on the views and experiences of women who are the targets of current policy efforts, the actual participants in marriage initiatives. Further, while research and programmatic emphasis has often focused on men's characteristics, we examined the characteristics of women that make them more or less competitive in the marriage market. Specifically, we examined women's views about their own marriageability, because men's marriageability has been extensively analyzed in prior research (Lichter, McLaughlin, Kephart, & Landry, 1992; Lopoo & Carlson, 2008). Accordingly, the strength of the current project is that we focused on women's marriageability from their own viewpoint.

Drawing on an exchange framework and using open-ended interviews, we examined women's perspectives of the barriers to marriage within their lives, specifically how the complexities of daily life, previous negative experiences with men, and attitudes about marriage converge to influence women's marriageability. Prior work has established empirical associations between women's characteristics (Carlson, McLanahan, & England, 2004; Graefe and Lichter, 2007; Lichter, Graefe, & Brown, 2003; Lloyd & South, 1996); however, these studies have not delved into single women's own perceptions of marriage. …

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