Academic journal article Family Relations

Are Government-Supported Healthy Marriage Initiatives Affecting Family Demographics? A State-Level Analysis

Academic journal article Family Relations

Are Government-Supported Healthy Marriage Initiatives Affecting Family Demographics? A State-Level Analysis

Article excerpt

This study assesses whether government-supported Healthy Marriage Initiatives (HMIs)-educational programs to help couples form and sustain healthy marriages and relationships-have had a measurable impact on population-level family outcomes. We compiled data on funding for these initiatives between 2000 and 2010 and aggregated these data to the state level for each year. We employed pooled time-series regression with fixed state and year effects to estimate the effects of funding on population-level outcomes taken from the American Community Survey. Cumulative per capita funding for HMIs between 2005 and 2010 was positively associated with small changes in the percentage of married adults in the population and children living with two parents, and it was negatively associated with the percentage of children living with one parent, nonmarital births, and children living in poverty. These results were diminished, however, when an influential outlier-Washington, DC-was removed from the analysis. Interpretations and implications of these findings are discussed.

Key Words: family life education, marriage and relationship education, poverty, public policy.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

During the last decade, the federal government has supported educational programs designed to help individuals and couples form and sustain healthy marriages and relationships. These efforts are known collectively as Healthy Marriage Initiatives (HMIs). Several motivations underlie attempts to improve the quality and stability of romantic unions. Research has shown that children, on average, perform best on measures of adjustment and achievement when reared in stable, well-functioning, two-parent families with involved fathers (Brown, 2010). Moreover, couple instability increases the risk of economic hardship for children and adults (Thomas & Sawhill, 2002). Although difficult to measure, the public costs of marital dissolution and union instability appear to be substantial (Scandi, 2008; Schramm, 2006). And the proportion of children experiencing family instability in the United States continues to increase (Kreider & Ellis, 2011). For these reasons, policymakers and researchers have asked whether policy initiatives can improve the quality and stability of parental unions and, in doing so, improve children's well-being, lower family poverty, and decrease costs to the state.

Another influential stream of research emerged from the longitudinal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (McLanahan et al., 2003). Using these data, researchers found that the majority of out-of-wedlock births occur to parents in romantic relationships who hope to marry and provide stable families for their children. But despite these positive aspirations, these unions are fragile; few survive beyond 5 years (McLanahan & Beck, 2010). Still, qualitative research has documented that some of these fragile families go to unusual lengths to try to preserve the family and father -child bonds even when the couple relationship is unfulfilling (Cross-Barnet, Cherlin, & Burton, 2012). Findings like these have led policymakers to consider whether educational interventions could strengthen these relationships, allow couples to fulfill their family aspirations, and increase the degree of stability in children's lives.

As we describe later, since the late 1990s, HMIs have been implemented in virtually all 50 states. Although HMIs are targeted to couples and individuals, advocates for these programs have stressed the eventual goal of society-wide change. For example, the explicit goals of the original 1996 welfare reform legislation included reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, 1996). The primary goal of the federal HMI is to "increase the percentage of children who are raised by two parents in a healthy marriage" (Administration for Children and Families, n. …

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