$800 Million Spent by Feds to Promote Healthy Marriages Had Little Effect

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Beginning with the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars believing it could promote healthy marriages. But a new study shows the investment has had little impact.


The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University says marriage rates didn’t change for the better overall from 2000 to 2010, when Washington poured $600 million into the Healthy Marriage Initiative.


By the end of the current fiscal year, the Obama administration will have spent another $200 million on pro-marriage efforts, bringing the total to $800 million.


Researchers say marriage and divorce rates pretty much stayed the same, whether states (like Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wyoming) invested in these programs, or spent little on them (like in Rhode Island, West Virginia and Nevada).


Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, told the Los Angeles Times that there was “no bump up or down in these figures,” which raised the question: “What are the measurable benefits?”


The benefits were supposed to be longer-lasting marriages, according to Wade F. Horn, the Bush administration’s Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, who argued before Congress that the investment would “increase the odds that couples will form and sustain healthy marriages,” and that these healthier relationships would mean less poverty and crime.


Confronted with the current statistics (pdf), beneficiaries of the federal funding claim their work has yielded benefits in other ways.


Studying marriage and divorce “is really a narrow view of the benefits,” according to Robyn Cenizal, project director of the federally funded National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families.


“Choosing not to get married is actually a good thing,” Cenizal told the Times, if that’s the decision that that results from attending marriage-related classes funded by the initiative.


Washington, D.C., was the one place in the country that was an exception to the overall results of the program. The district spent more to promote healthy marriages than any of the states and found its marriage rate increase by 35% during the 10-year period. Nowhere else was there such an impact from spending, a fact that researchers attributed to the evolving demographics of the district.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Federal Funds to Foster Healthy Marriage have Little Effect, Study Finds (by Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times)

Healthy Marriage Initiative Spending and U.S. Marriage & Divorce Rates, a State-level Analysis (by Wendy D. Manning, Susan L. Brown, Krista K. Payne and Hsueh-Sheng Wu; National Center for Family & Marriage Research) (pdf)

Why do Religious Conservatives have Higher Divorce Rate? Early Marriage and Poverty (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Legally Married U.S. Couples Live Longer than Unmarried Couples…If They’re White, but not Black (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Bill 5 years ago
See http://www.familiesok.org/research.aspx and new report here http://nationalmarriageproject.org/reports/

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