Marriage Promotion Policy and Family Inequality



In 1996, Congress overhauled welfare policy to promote marriage and work as ways to lift American families out of poverty. Almost all of the funding for governmental marriage promotion has been devoted to relationship skills programs intended to help couples strengthen their relationships, encourage them to marry, and thereby prevent poverty. Marriage promotion policy has sparked intense debate, especially over the connection between marriage and family inequality. While advocates of the policy argue the government should promote marriage because it fosters social and economic well-being, critics challenge the assumption that marriage itself causes these benefits or will help lift poor families out of poverty. Recent sociological research on why poor and low-income couples marry less finds that they tend not to marry if they cannot meet a specific economic threshold. This suggests that rather than promoting the view that relationship skills en route to marriage can help prevent poverty, marriage promotion policy could likely better serve disadvantaged families by acknowledging and addressing the socioeconomic roots of family inequality.