Academic journal article Family Relations

Do Premarital Education Programs Really Work? A Meta-Analytic Study

Academic journal article Family Relations

Do Premarital Education Programs Really Work? A Meta-Analytic Study

Article excerpt

Previous studies (J. S. Carroll & W. J. Doherty, 2003) have asserted that premarital education programs have a positive effect on program participants. Using meta-analytic methods of current best practices to look across the entire body of published and unpublished evaluation research on premarital education, we found a more complex pattern of results. We coded 47 studies and found that premarital education programs do not improve relationship quality/satisfaction when unpublished studies are included in the analysis, although studies that follow couples past the honeymoon stage to detect prevention effects are rare. In contrast, premarital education programs appear to be effective at improving couple communication, with studies that employed observational measures rather than self-report measures producing large effects. Still, given the mixed, modest results, there is ample room and a real need to improve the practice of premarital education.

Key Words: family life education, meta-analysis, premarital education.

Promoting healthy marriages and relationships has become a significant focus of legislators, clergy, and mental health professionals. Within these efforts, premarital education is receiving particular attention from policymakers and significant public funding (Hawkins, 2007). In a multi-state random household survey, Stanley, Amato, Johnson, and Markman (2006) found that in the past few decades premarital education has become more prevalent and that increased availability of educational programs is correlated with more frequent public use. They reported that premarital education is significantly correlated with higher levels of marital quality, lower levels of marital conflict, and lower divorce rates. Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, Markman, and Johnson (2009), however, found that couples with higher risk profiles for divorce were less likely to participate in premarital education. Nock, Sanchez, and Wright (2008), in a study of married Louisiana couples, found that formal premarital education or counseling reduced the chances of eventual divorce, especially for those with riskier profiles for divorce. These findings reinforce a growing body program evaluation research that points to the efficacy of premarital education (Carroll & Doherty, 2003).

A few recent meta-analytic studies (Blanchard, Hawkins, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2009; Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, & Fawcett, 2008; Reardon- Anderson, Stagner, Macomber, & Murray, 2005) have included premarital programs in their larger look at marriage education efforts, but they did not specifically examine premarital program effects. An oft-cited study by Carroll and Doherty (2003), however, looked specifically at 23 premarital education studies, 13 with experimental and quasi-experimental designs, 10 nonexperimental (pre-post) designs, and 3 correlational designs. There were only seven control-group studies that yielded codable effect sizes; the overall effect size was d = .80. From this effect size (and a qualitative analysis of the other studies), the researchers concluded that premarital prevention programs are generally effective. Methodological problems with this study, however, limit confidence in their conclusions. First, the researchers did not weight individual study effect sizes by the inverse variance to account for greater sampling error, as is standard practice in meta-analysis (Lipsey & Wilson, 2001). In addition, they did not include unpublished studies, which can result in overestimating effects (Veva & Woods, 2005). Nor did they estimate separately the change-score effect size from one-group/pre-post studies, which can also yield valuable information about program effectiveness. Finally, they did not disaggregate relationship communication and relationship quality/satisfaction outcomes, which may differ, especially in engaged-couple studies with highly satisfied couples with little room for improvement in relationship satisfaction. …

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