“I’m a Democrat,” [Patty Howell, vice president of media relations for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition (CHMC)] began, “so I know that marriage education and relationship-skills training totally aligns with Democrats’ values and Democrats’ social agenda.”
Okay… Just because you are a Democrat, your positions don’t necessarily represent the Democratic party. Plus, simply claiming that something is true doesn’t make it so. Where’s the evidence?
Howell isn’t exactly objective about assessing this either. Her organization gets the largest grant under the program…
Substance abuse, poverty, poor school performance, crime and unwed pregnancy – “all of these are costly problems to fix when they’ve happened,” said Ms. Howell. “But if we can empower couples through marriage education and relationship-skills training, we give them the capacity to prevent these problems.”
Great! That’s a testable hypothesis: Empowered, married couples have no substance abuse, poverty, poor school performance, crime and unwed pregnancy problems. Well, the unwed pregnancy prevention is a no-brainer: By definition a married woman cannot be an unwed mother… What about the other stuff? Fortunately, CHMC has done some research and the results are promising:
“Couples have more satisfaction in their relationships, more confidence in the stability of their relationships, and much better feelings about their partners,” said Ms. Howell. Moreover, those results are even stronger six months later.
That’s nice! But what about the poverty prevention and all these other problems that marriage are supposed to solve? They’re studying the wrong dependent variable: If you’re trying to prevent poverty, for example, measuring the level of happiness isn’t going to tell you diddly squat about poverty prevention. Even people in poverty can be happy.
The marriage promoters don’t tell us, though, that there is already plenty of research that shows that marriage promotion does not address any of these problems. There are much better, more effective solutions out there and the Obama administration is right to reassess where they are spending our money. The Alternatives to Marriage Project’s aptly named report “Let Them Eat Wedding Rings” summarizes the research.
Amongst many studies is a 2006 study from
the National Center for Children in Poverty reviewed Census data on low-income families, defined as those earning up to twice the federal poverty level (for example, earning up to $40,000/year for a family of four). They found that 51% of low-income children live with an unmarried parent, while 49% live with married parents. Having married parents appears to have almost no impact on whether a child grows up in a household that can make ends meet.
In an international comparison AtMP finds that
the four countries with some of the lowest child poverty rates in Europe (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and France) all have unmarried birth rates far higher than the United States’. Yet Sweden’s child poverty rate is seven times lower than the rate in the U.S., despite the fact that the majority of babies there are born to unmarried parents.
AtMP is not the only organization that has looked at the research and concluded that marriage promotion is not an effective way to address the problems of poverty and substance abuse. If we stop using marriage as a panacea, we can develop programs that actually do address these issues.