Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: Marriage and Child Wellbeing Volume 15 Number 2 Fall 2005

Introducing the Issue
Sara McLanahan Elisabeth Donahue Ron Haskins


Marriage has become a hot topic on the American domestic policy scene. The Bush administration is proposing to spend $1.5 billion over the next five years to increase “healthy” marriages.1 Gays and lesbians are demanding the right to marry.2 A few states are reconsidering no-fault divorce laws and experimenting with new types of “covenant marriage.”3 And legislators are scrutinizing tax and transfer policies for “marriage penalties.”4 These initiatives have been spurred by changes in marriage and childbearing during the latter part of the twentieth century and by mounting social science evidence that these changes are not in the best interests of children.

The goal of this volume is to lay out the major issues in the debate over marriage and to provide readers with some facts and a context to help them understand the debate. Most people find it difficult to talk about marriage, because many of the issues reflect deeply felt values. Thoughtful people are torn about what to make of all the changes in marriage and family life over the past half-century and what to do about them. Moreover, the social science evidence is not as conclusive as we might like it to be. Of necessity we lack the gold standard of evaluation research: people cannot be randomly assigned to different family structures and then compared with respect to their outcomes. Instead we must rely on theory and empirical evidence drawn from non-experimental data. Nevertheless, given the importance of marriage and family life and given the government's growing involvement in funding marriage programs, we believe the topic merits the attention of a journal devoted to improving policies for children.