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Roles of Couples' Relationship Skills and Fathers' Employment in Encouraging Marriage

Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D.

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Center for Data Analysis Report #04-14

This paper examines the factors that are most likely to contribute to healthy marriages among low-income couples. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey, we analyzed couples who were unmarried at the time of their child's birth, but who subsequently married within the first year after that birth.

The analysis revealed four factors that were sig­nificant predictors of subsequent marriage among couples who were unmarried at the time of their child's birth. These factors were:

Parental marital attitudes and relationship skills;

Mother's race;

Mother's age (25 or older); and,

Father's employment.

Neither the annual earnings nor education level of mothers or fathers were found to be significant predictors of post-birth marriage among unmar­ried parents.

The analysis also indicates that improving pater­nal employment alone would have, at best, a mod­est impact on marriage. Increasing fathers' employment, so that all fathers were currently employed and worked 52 weeks per year, would increase the marriage rate among unmarried cou­ples only slightly; from a base rate of 11.3 percent up to 13.2 percent.

The Fragile Families data indicate that the marital attitudes and relationship skills of a couple play an important role in encouraging marriage. An 11-point scale for each parent was devised, measuring attitudes toward marriage, gender trust, support­iveness, and conflict in the relationship. An upward shift of one point for each parent on this scale doubled a couple's probability of marriage.

The analysis suggests that healthy marriage pro­grams should put their primary emphasis on improving couples' attitudes and relationship skills. Effective job training and employment ser­vices can also play a positive role in encouraging healthy marriage, but job training should play an ancillary and supportive--rather than a domi­nant--role in marriage promotion programs.

Read the entire article on the Heritage Foundation website (new window will open).

Posted: 12/14/04



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