Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Monday, June 28, 2010

Are We All in Need of Marriage Education?

From the Washington Post:

Horn was well versed in the literature that showed that -- all things being equal -- children raised in two-parent homes fare, on average, better than those who grow up in single-parent households. They have more economic stability, are less likely to exhibit behavioral problems or abuse drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to finish high school and go on to college.

"It made sense to start to think, 'What would government do if it were interested in preventing family breakup, and how would it go about doing that?'" he says.

During his first few years in office, Horn redirected small pots of money from existing programs into marriage education initiatives. Then, in 2005, his team persuaded Congress to allot $100 million a year for the next five years to be spent on marriage education around the country. Another $50 million a year was set aside for programs about responsible fatherhood.

Horn's agency put out a request for proposals from organizations that wanted to provide marriage education services under the program, and awarded 122 Healthy Marriage grants, many of them focused on low-income communities. "Low-income couples, by definition, have less discretionary income, and what we want to do is provide free services," he explained recently, adding that all marriage education programs were offered on a voluntary basis.

So for almost five years now, the federal government has been spending tax dollars trying to teach couples how to be better at marriage.

Whether that's an appropriate use of public funds is a legitimate question -- marriage is hugely complicated, and anyone who's felt relief from exiting a bad one may think the government has no business meddling with our most personal affairs. But equally pressing is whether marriage education really works. And so far the government has published little evidence proving the effectiveness of the programs it has been funding.

A 2008 Government Accountability Office report looked at the Healthy Marriage Initiative but focused mainly on the administration and oversight of its grants. One study commissioned by ACF examined eight programs administered through the federal initiative and found that only one improved the quality of the relationship of participants. Two other multiyear studies of the initiative are underway, but results aren't expected until next year, when the funding will have run out. For fiscal 2011, the Obama administration has suggested a redirection of the initiative's funds into a one-year, $500 million investment that would focus largely on fatherhood and family self-sufficiency.

Even Sollee says that "we don't know" with certainty how successful the programs are at saving marriages.

But there's growing evidence that the workshops and seminars can improve the quality and longevity of unions. A 2009 analysis of more than 100 academic studies evaluating the effectiveness of marriage education found "modest evidence" that the programs can work preventively and as interventions, though no one suggests marriage education is the answer for couples dealing with abuse or acute dysfunction.

Read the full article here.


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