Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Healthy marriage interventions: A boom or a bust?

Date:
May 22, 2012
Source:
Binghamton University
Summary:
Conventional wisdom, backed by years of research, suggests that healthy marriages equals a healthy society. And politicians and government officials have taken note, investing millions of dollars each year in education programs designed to promote healthy marriages, focusing specifically on poor couples and couples of color. Is it working? No, says a researcher in a new article.

Conventional wisdom, backed by years of research, suggests that healthy marriages equals a healthy society. And politicians and government officials have taken note, investing hundreds of millions of dollars each year in education programs designed to promote healthy marriages, focusing specifically on poor couples and couples of color. Is it working? No, says a Binghamton University researcher in a new study published in the current issue of American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. And it's because many of these programs were based on research data gathered from White and middle-class marriages, and when applied to poor couples or couples of color, just don't work.

Related Articles


"Initially, the rationale for these programs came from policy makers and scholars, who honed in on the association between unmarried parents and poverty that is plainly obvious in the data," said Matthew D. Johnson, associate professor of psychology at Binghamton University. "This association led George W. Bush to make the promotion of healthy marriages a central plank of his domestic policy agenda, resulting in the implementation of the Healthy Marriage Initiatives. Barack Obama endorsed these initiatives, both as presidential candidate and as president. Now that the data on the success of these programs has started to roll in, the results have been very disappointing."

According to Johnson, the problem lies in the fact that many of these programs lack grounding in solid science and are allowed to run unchecked. He cites research from two recent multisite studies as evidence that many of the federal programs that promote healthy marriage need to be suspended -- or at the very least, overhauled. One of these studies, which was focused on over 5,000 couples in eight cities, examined the benefits of interventions designed to improve the relationships of low-income, unmarried couples who were either pregnant or recently had their first child.

The results indicated that the interventions had no effect in six of the cities, small beneficial effects in one city, and small detrimental effects in another city. The results of the other outcome study focused on 5,395 low-income married couples and found that those who received the intervention experienced very small improvements in relationship satisfaction, communication, and psychological health but no significant changes in relationship dissolution or cooperative parenting. And to add to it, the interventions didn't come cheap, costing on average around $9,100 per couple.

So why the disconnect between a seemingly good idea and disappointing program outcomes? Johnson says there are several possible explanations. The best of these programs -- the ones based on scientific findings -- were initially studied with middle-class couples while the federal initiatives target poor couples. And even if the research that formed the basis of these interventions does apply, relationship improvement just doesn't seem to be a priority for poor couples.

"There is evidence that suggests poor women want to be married and understand the benefits of healthy marriages," said Johnson. "But earning enough for basic household expenses, keeping their children safe and working with their children's overburdened schools are much more urgent concerns, making the idea of focusing on marriage seem self-indulgent if not irrelevant to many poor parents. When faced with a myriad of social issues, building intimate relationships is just not high on their priority lists."

Johnson explains that this doesn't mean the federal government shouldn't be funding intimate relationship research. Instead, the government needs to adopt a more multifaceted approach: focus on programs that will ease the stress of poor families and at the same time, fund more rigorous basic research.

"We just don't have solid predictors for relationship satisfaction for poor couple and couple of color, let alone whether the current marriage models apply," said Johnson. He points to the National Institutes of Health as being the perfect place to coordinate and sponsor the research, noting "It has a long history of using scientific rigor in decision-making and it would certainly help in achieving the type of results that we're looking for from these initiatives."

Johnson also suggests that every community-based program funded by the Health Marriage Initiative should be required to gather standardized quantitative data in order to clearly demonstrate outcomes. And if the data shows programs aren't working, Johnson recommends that the federal government get tough and either defund or filter out those that do not demonstrate effectiveness.

"If we are going to continue these initiatives, let's at least make certain that we are assessing the effectiveness of the programs and learning from our mistakes," said Johnson. "Improving marriages is a worthy goal and one shared by Democrat and Republican administrations alike. The key now is to get that same bipartisan support for improving the research and programs that target poor couples. With the renewed focus on the federal budget, the timing is just right."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Binghamton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Johnson, Matthew D. Healthy marriage initiatives: On the need for empiricism in policy implementation. American Psychologist, 2012 [link]

Cite This Page:

Binghamton University. "Healthy marriage interventions: A boom or a bust?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120522115036.htm>.
Binghamton University. (2012, May 22). Healthy marriage interventions: A boom or a bust?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120522115036.htm
Binghamton University. "Healthy marriage interventions: A boom or a bust?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120522115036.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Science & Society News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

After Sony Hack, What's Next?

After Sony Hack, What's Next?

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 19, 2014) The hacking attack on Sony Pictures has U.S. government officials weighing their response to the cyber-attack. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

Sierra Leone Bikers Spread the Message to Fight Ebola

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that NORAD is ready to track Santa Claus as he delivers gifts next week. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, he said if Santa drops anything off his sleigh, "we've got destroyers out there to pick them up." (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins