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Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Decreasing Nonmarital Births and Strengthening Marriage to Reduce Poverty
Paul R. Amato Rebecca A. Maynard

Fighting Poverty through Policies That Promote Child Rearing within Healthy Marriages

We propose two strategies to increase the likelihood that children grow up with two continuously married parents. The first is to expand educational programs and social marketing campaigns to prevent nonmarital births. The second is to expand support for marriage education and relationship skills programs.

The aim of the first strategy is to promote abstinence among unmarried teenagers and improve contraception use among sexually active young women who do not intend to become pregnant. This strategy focuses on unmarried teens and young adults, who together account for 62 percent of all nonmarital births. It seems well aligned with the goals of young women, as two-thirds of the births to women under the age of twenty and almost all of those to unmarried teens are reported to be unintended, as are one-third of all births to women aged twenty to twenty-four.20 The aim of the second strategy is to improve the quality of marital relationships and lower divorce rates by teaching couples communication, conflict resolution, and social support skills within marriage. Educational programs to prevent divorce should not only improve the economic well-being of children and their families, but also strengthen marital relationships and improve the quality of parenting.

Together, the two strategies could reduce the number of children born to unmarried mothers, increase the share of children growing up with two continuously married parents, and improve the economic well-being of the families in which children are reared.21 In both strategies, the central pathway for reducing poverty is to raise the share of children reared by married couples.