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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


  1. Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill, “For Love and Money? The Impact of Family Structure on Family Income,” Future of Children 15, no. 2 (2005): 57–74.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006 (2007), table 586; R. Kelly Raley and Larry Bumpass, “The Topography of the Divorce Plateau: Levels and Trends in Union Stability in the United States after 1980,” Demographic Research 8 (2003): 246–59; Rose Kreider, “Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2001,” Current Population Reports (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005); S. C. Clarke, “Advance Report of Final Divorce Statistics, 1989 and 1990,” Monthly Vital Statistics Report 43, no. 8 (Hyattsville, Md.: National Center for Health Statistics, 1995).
  3. Joyce Martin and others, National Vital Statistics Report 55, no. 1 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, 2006).
  4. Andrew J. Cherlin, “Should the Government Promote Marriage?” Contexts 2 (2003): 22–30.
  5. David Eggebeen and Daniel Lichter, “Race, Family Structure, and Changing Poverty among American Children,” American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 801–17; Robert I. Lerman, “The Impact of the Changing U.S. Family Structure on Poverty and Income Inequality,” Economica 63 (1996): S119–39; John Iceland, “Why Poverty Remains High: The Role of Income Growth, Economic Inequality, and Changes in Family Structure, 1949–1999,” Demography 40 (2003): 499–519.
  6. Robert I. Lerman. Impact of Marital Status and Parental Presence on the Material Hardship of Families with Children (Washington: Urban Institute, 2002); Robert I. Lerman. How Do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children? (Washington: Urban Institute, 2002).
  7. U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Thresholds (2005), .html (November 21, 2006).
  8. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006, table 586 (see note 2).
  9. Paul R. Amato and others, Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is Changing (Harvard University Press, 2007).
  10. Steven L. Nock, Marriage in Men’s Lives (Oxford University Press, 1998).
  11. Charlotte Schoenborn, Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999–2002. Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics (Hyattsville, Md.: National Center for Health Statistics, 2004); Linda Waite, “Does Marriage Matter?” Demography 32 (1995): 483–507.
  12. L. Hao, “Family Structure, Private Transfers, and the Economic Well-Being of Families with Children,” Social Forces 75 (1996): 269–92; David Eggebeen, “Cohabitation and Exchanges of Support,” Social Forces 83 (2005): 1097–110; Anne E. Winkler, “Economic Decision-Making by Cohabitors: Findings Regarding Income Pooling,” Applied Economics 29 (1997): 1079–90.
  13. Dan Lichter, Deborah R. Graefe, and J. Brian Brown, “Is Marriage a Panacea? Union Formation among Economically-Disadvantaged Unwed Mothers,” Social Problems 50 (2003): 60–86.
  14. Lynn K. White and Stacy J. Rogers, “Economic Circumstances and Family Outcomes: A Review of the 1990s,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (2000): 1035–51; Jay Teachman, Lucky M. Tedrow, and Kyle D. Crowder, “The Changing Demography of America’s Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (2000): 1234–46.
  15. Gregory Acs and Sandi Nelson, What Do “I Do’s” Do? Potential Benefits of Marriage for Cohabiting Couples with Children (Washington: Urban Institute, 2004); Robert I. Lerman, Married and Unmarried Parenthood and Economic Well-Being: A Dynamic Analysis of a Recent Cohort (Washington: Urban Institute, 2002); Nock, Marriage in Men’s Lives (see note 10); Paula Roberts, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love: Would Poor Couples with Children Be Better Off Economically if They Married?” Couples and Marriage Series Brief 5 (Washington: Center for Law and Social Policy, 2004); Waite, “Does Marriage Matter?” (see note 11).
  16. Juliana M. Sobolweski and Paul R. Amato, “Economic Hardship in the Family of Origin and Children’s Psychological Well-Being in Adulthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67 (2005): 141–57; Rand D. Conger and Glenn H. Elder, Families in Troubled Times: Adapting to Change in Rural America (Aldine de Gruyter, 1994); Matthew Bramlett and William Mosher, “Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States,” Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, no. 22 (Hyattsville, Md.: National Center for Health Statistics, 2002).
  17. Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Harvard University Press, 1994). Also see Pamela Smock, Wendy Manning, and Sanjiv Gupta, “The Effect of Marriage and Divorce on Women’s Economic Well-Being,” American Sociological Review 64 (1999): 794–812.
  18. Jay D. Teachman and Kathleen M. Paasch, “Financial Impact of Divorce on Children and Their Families,” Future of Children 4, no 1 (1994): 63–83.
  19. Jay L. Zagorsky, “Marriage and Divorce’s Impact on Wealth,” Journal of Sociology 41 (2005): 406–24.
  20. National Vital Statistics Report 54, no. 2 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, 2005), table 2, p. 30, and table 17, p. 52.
  21. It also would be useful to design programs geared toward helping unwed couples with children (or expecting a child) to solidify their relationships and learn effective methods of co-parenting (whether in marriage or not). We do not focus specifically on this policy initiative in this article, however, for two reasons. First, the size and character of the target population for such interventions will be determined by the success of our main proposals. Second, major demonstration projects are under way that eventually will inform the design of such efforts. The major evaluation effort focused on this population refers to Building Strong Families programs ( [November 21, 2006]).
  22. Susan Brown, “Child Well-Being in Cohabiting Families,” in Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children and Social Policy, edited by Alan Booth and Ann C. Crouter (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002), pp. 173–87; Larry L. Wu, Larry L. Bumpass, and Kelly Musick. “Historical and Life Course Trajectories of Nonmarital Childbearing,” CDE Working Paper 99-23 (University of Wisconsin- Madison: Center for Demography and Ecology, 1999).
  23. A. Bachu, “Trends in Marital Status of U.S. Women at First Birth: 1930 to 1994,” Population Division Working Papers 35 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998), table 1.
  24. Sara McLanahan and others, The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study: Baseline National Report (Princeton University: Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Well-Being, 2003).
  25. Cynthia Osborn, Maternal Stress and Mothering Behaviors in Stable and Unstable Families (Princeton University: Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Well-Being, 2003); Cynthia Osborne and Sara McLanahan, The Effects of Partnership Instability on Parenting and Young Children’s Health and Behavior (Princeton University: Center for Research on Child Well-Being, 2004).
  26. We thank Sara McLanahan and Kevin Bradway for providing these statistics from their five-year follow-up of the Fragile Families sample.
  27. Wu, Bumpass, and Musick, “Historical and Life Course Trajectories of Nonmarital Childbearing” (see note 22).
  28. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006, table 82 (see note 2).
  29. See John S. Santelli and others, “Can Changes in Sexual Behaviors among High School Students Explain the Decline in Teen Pregnancy Rates in the 1990s?” Journal of Adolescent Health 35, no. 2 (2004); Jacqueline E. Darroch and S. Singh, “Why Is Teenage Pregnancy Declining? The Roles of Abstinence, Sexual Activity, and Contraceptive Use,” Occasional Report 1 (New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999).
  30. U.S. Bureau of the Census, (February 7, 2007).
  31. Stanley K. Henshaw, “Unintended Pregnancy in the United States,” Family Planning Perspectives 30, no. 1 (1998): 24–29 and 46, table 1.
  32. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Green Book: Background Material and Data on Programs within the Jurisdiction of the House Committee on Ways and Means, appendix M (2004), (February 8, 2007).
  33. Saul D. Hoffman and E. M. Foster, “Economic Correlates of Nonmarital Childbearing among Adult Women,” Family Planning Perspectives 29, no. 3 (1997): 137–40.
  34. Henshaw, “Unintended Pregnancy in the United States” (see note 31).
  35. For example, see Lauren Scher, Rebecca Maynard, and Matthew Stagner, Interventions Intended to Reduce Pregnancy-Related Outcomes among Adolescents (Campbell Collaboration, 2006), www.campbellcollaboration. org/doc-pdf/scherteenpregnancyprot.pdf (February 7, 2007); Douglas Kirby, No Easy Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy (Washington: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 1997); J. Manlove and others, “Preventing Teenage Pregnancy, Childbearing, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: What the Research Shows,” Child Trends Research Brief (Washington: Child Trends, 2002); and A. DiCenso and others, “Interventions to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies among Adolescents: Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials,” BMJ 324 (2002): 1426–30.
  36. Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard, eds., Kids Having Kids: The Economic and Social Consequences of Teenage Childbearing, 2nd ed. (Washington: Urban Institute Press, forthcoming).
  37. Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas report that even when children are not strictly intended, many poor women are happy to discover that they are pregnant. Because educational and occupational routes to satisfaction are limited, these young women see parenthood as a way to enhance their self-esteem and sense of purpose in life. Kathyrn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage (University of California Press, 2005).
  38. Tabulations of the National Survey of Adolescent Health and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey data for 1995 indicate that more than 90 percent of school districts provide some form of health and sex education and that nearly the same proportion of youth report having been taught about HIV/AIDS infections.
  39. See, for example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, School Health Policies and Programs Study (2000); Laura Kann, Nancy D. Brener, and Diane D. Allensworth, “Health Education: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2000,” Journal of School Health 71, no. 7 (2001); Cynthia Dillard, “Sex Education: Politicians, Parents, Teachers, and Teens,” Guttmacher Report on Public Policy 4, no. 1 (2001).
  40. See, for example, the descriptions of a sampling of abstinence education programs funded under Title V, Section 510, of the Social Security Act, as reported in Rebecca Maynard and others, First-Year Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510, Abstinence Education Programs (Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2005), compared with the descriptions of the predominantly comprehensive sex education programs in a synthesis of research by Douglas Kirby, Emerging Answers (Washington: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001).
  41. For example, see National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, “Curriculum Based Programs That Prevent Teen Pregnancy,” (February 7, 2007). The inconclusive nature of the evidence on program effectiveness is illustrated in the systematic reviews of evidence reported by Scher, Maynard, and Stagner, Interventions Intended to Reduce Pregnancy- Related Outcomes among Adolescents (note 35); and Kirby, No Easy Answers (see note 35). Also see Douglas Kirby, Abstinence Programs Delay the Initiation of Sex among Young People and Reduce Teen Pregnancy (2002), (February 7, 2007).
  42. See Rebecca Maynard and Saul Hoffman, “The Costs of Adolescent Childbearing,” in Kids Having Kids, edited by Hoffman and Maynard (see note 36). The estimated program costs assume an average of 630 students per educator, salary and benefits for the educators of $100,000 a year, and material costs per student of $30 a year.
  43. Total program costs would be about $2.7 billion, and the projected savings associated with halving the rate of teen childbearing would be about $3.6 billion annually.
  44. See (February 8, 2007).
  45. Scher, Maynard, and Stagner, Interventions Intended to Reduce Pregnancy-Related Outcomes among Adolescents (see note 35).
  46. W. K. Halford and others, “Best Practice in Couple Relationship Education,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 29 (2003): 385–406; Theodora Ooms, “The New Kid on the Block: What Is Marriage Education and Does It Work?” Brief 7 (Washington: Center for Law and Social Policy Research, July 2005); Jane Reardon-Anderson and others, Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and Relationship Programs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 2005).
  47. J. S. Carroll and William J. Doherty, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Premarital Prevention Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review of Outcome Research,” Family Relations 52 (2003): 105–18.
  48. Kurt Hahlweg and others, “Prevention of Marital Distress: Results of a German Prospective Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Family Psychology 12 (1998): 543–56.
  49. Howard Markman and others, “Preventing Marital Distress through Communication and Conflict Management Training: A 4- and 5-Year Follow-Up,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 61 (1993): 70–77.
  50. W. Kim Halford and others, “Benefits of a Flexible Delivery Relationship Education: An Evaluation of the Couple CARE Program,” Family Relations 53 (2004): 469–76; W. Kim Halford and others, “Do Couples at High Risk of Relationship Problems Attend Premarriage Education?” Journal of Family Psychology 20 (2006): 160–63.
  51. Scott Stanley and others, “Premarital Education, Marital Quality, and Marital Stability,” Journal of Family Psychology 20 (2006):117–26.
  52. Because this study is based on survey data, selection may account for some of the estimated effect of premarital education on divorce. Nevertheless, the study included a large number of controls, including whether couples were married in a religious setting. Given that most premarital education services traditionally have been offered by religious organizations, this variable represents a strong control for selection. The researchers also used biprobit regression with correlated errors and found no evidence that omitted variables upwardly biased the estimated program effect.
  53. Administration for Children and Families, Healthy Marriage Initiative Activities and Accomplishments 2002–2004 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).
  54. Elisa Minoff, Theodora Ooms, and Paula Roberts, “Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Grants: Announcement Overview” (Center for Law and Social Policy, May 30, 2006), marriage_fatherhood_rfp.pdf (January 28, 2007).
  55. National telephone survey conducted by Scott Stanley and Howard Markman, 1996.
  56. See (February 6, 2007).
  57. Elizabeth B. Fawcett, Alan J. Hawkins, and Victoria L. Blanchard, “Does Marriage Education Work? A Comprehensive Review of the Effectiveness of Marriage Education,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Minneapolis, November 8, 2006.
  58. See (February 7, 2007).
  59. The basic principles of PREP are described in Howard J. Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg, Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive Steps for Preventing Divorce and Having a Lasting Love (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005). For recent evaluations of PREP, see Philippe-Jean Laurenceau and others, “Community-Based Prevention of Marital Dysfunction: Multilevel Modeling of a Randomized Effectiveness Study,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 72 (2004): 933–43; Scott Stanley and others, “Dissemination and Evaluation of Marriage Education in the Army,” Family Process 44 (2005): 187–201.
  60. Oklahoma uses a version of Pam Jordan and colleagues’ Becoming Parents Program (BPP), which is based on the PREP model but also addresses changes in the couple relationship pre- and postbirth. See M. Robin Dion and others, Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Unmarried Couples with Children: Early Lessons from the Building Strong Families Project (Mathematica Policy Research, 2006).
  61. In the late 1990s, the federal government stopped publishing national counts of divorce, mainly because several states habitually failed to provide data on divorce. The current estimate is based on the authors’ calculations from states that provided data in 2004 and assumes that the frequency of divorce is, overall, comparable in states that comply and those that do not.
  62. U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1999, table 159.
  63. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006, table 60 (see note 2).
  64. This estimate is based on conversations between the authors and organizations that currently administer various marriage programs.
  65. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006, table 694 (see note 2).
  66. For examples of shift-share analyses, see Eggebeen and Lichter, “Race, Family Structure, and Changing Poverty” (see note 5); Lerman, “The Impact of the Changing U.S. Family Structure on Poverty” (see note 5); Wendy Sigle-Rushton and Sara McLanahan, “For Richer or Poorer? Marriage as an Anti-Poverty Strategy in the United States,” Working Paper 01-17-FF (Princeton University, Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, 2003).
  67. Thomas and Sawhill, “For Love and Money?” (see note 1).
  68. The time-series analysis controlled for variables that may be correlated with single-parent family formation and poverty, including the unemployment rate, the value of the minimum wage in constant dollars, the percentage of female high school graduates, and the introduction of TANF legislation in 1996.
  69. Statistical Abstract of the United States 2006, table 694 (see note 2).
  70. Although we present a range of estimates, our most optimistic projections are not unreasonable. In recent years, some communities have adopted pro-marriage programs that include premarital education, annual enrichment retreats for married couples, interventions for couples at risk of divorce, and the introduction of support groups for stepfamilies. Most of these interventions are based in religious organizations. A recent study estimated the effect of community marriage support policies on divorce rates. In general, the divorce rate declined modestly during the evaluation period. But communities that adopted these policies experienced a decline in the rate of divorce that was about twice as large as the decline in other communities. This study suggests that interventions to strengthen marriage, even when limited to religious organizations, can have a significant effect on the rate of divorce. Paul James Birch, Stan E. Weed, and Joseph Olsen, “Assessing the Impact of Community Marriage Policies on County Divorce Rates,” Family Relations 53 (2004): 495–503.
  71. Hoffman and Maynard, eds., Kids Having Kids (see note 36).
  72. David G. Schramm, “Individual and Social Costs of Divorce in Utah,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 27 (2006): 133–51.
  73. Melinda S. Forthofer and others, “Associations between Marital Distress and Work Loss in a National Sample,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (1996): 597–605.
  74. Reardon-Anderson and others, Systematic Review of the Impact of Marriage and Relationship Programs (see note 46); Fawcett, Hawkins, and Blanchard, “Does Marriage Education Work?” (note 57).
  75. Adam Carasso and C. Eugene Steuerle, “The Hefty Penalty on Marriage Facing Many Households with Children,” Future of Children 15, no. 2 (2005): 157–75.
  76. Gregory Acs and Elaine Maag. “Irreconcilable Differences? The Conflict between Marriage Promotion Initiatives for Cohabiting Couples with Children and Marriage Penalties in Tax and Transfer Programs,” Report B-66 (Washington: Urban Institute: 2005).
  77. Lichter, Graefe, and Brown, “Is Marriage a Panacea?” (note 13).
  78. Jan Pryor and Bryan Rogers, Children in Changing Families: Life after Parental Separation (London: Blackwell, 2001).
  79. Paul R. Amato, “The Implications of Research on Children in Stepfamilies,” in Stepfamilies: Who Benefits? Who Does Not, edited by Alan Booth and Judy Dunn (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004).
  80. Michael P. Johnson and Kathleen Farraro, “Research on Family Violence in the 1990s: Making Distinctions,” Journal of Marriage and Family 62 (2000): 948–63; Michael P. Johnson and Janel M. Leone, “The Differential Effects of Intimate Terrorism and Situational Couple Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey,” Journal of Family Issues 26 (2005): 322–49.
  81. Janel M. Leone and others, “Consequences of Male Partner Violence for Low-Income Minority Women,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 472–90; Edin and Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep (note 37).
  82. Paula Roberts, “Building Bridges between the Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Movements: Issues, Concerns, and Recommendations,” Couples and Marriage Series Brief 7 (Washington: Center for Law and Social Policy, September, 2006).
  83. Scott Stanley, Marline Pearson, and Galena H. Kline, “The Development of Relationship Education for Low-Income Individuals: Lessons from Research and Experience,” paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Washington, 2005.
  84. See (February 7, 2007).
  85. See (February 7, 2007).
  86. See (February 7, 2007).
  87. Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan, “For Richer or Poorer?” (note 66).