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by Susan Flynn
Contrary to perception, people with lower incomes value the institution of marriage as much as those with higher incomes, and federal spending on teaching relationship skills to low-income couples is misguided, a new study asserts.
The study’s researchers argue that government-funded programs to strengthen marriage among low-income populations should move beyond promoting the value of marriage and instead focus on the actual problems that low-income couples face – such as economic troubles and substance abuse.
The study stems from a survey of 6,012 people (average age just under 46) – a random sample of Florida, California, Texas and New York residents. Benjamin Karney, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California Los Angeles, and Thomas Trail, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology, analyzed the data and reported their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Previous research has shown that divorce rates in the United States are higher and marriage rates are lower among low-income populations, but this study found that low-income respondents hold more traditional views about marriage than those with higher incomes.
Both groups report similar romantic standards and relationship problems, but low-income couples are more likely than affluent couples to blame economic and social issues, such as money problems, drinking and drug use, for hurting their relationship.
“Prompted by the belief that the institution of marriage is in crisis among the poor, the federal government has spent $1 billion on initiatives to strengthen marriage among low-income populations,” Karney says, asserting that government money would be better spent helping low-income people with the day-to-day challenges in their lives.
“There is a lot you can do with a billion dollars to promote marriage, including helping people with child care and transportation; that is not where the money has been spent,” Karney says. “Almost all of that money has been spent on educational curricula, which is a narrow approach, based on false assumptions. . . . None of the data support the current policy of teaching relationship values and skills. Low-income people have concrete, practical problems making ends meet.”
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