"Marriage Plus": Sabotaging the President's Efforts to Promote Healthy Marriage

Report Welfare

"Marriage Plus": Sabotaging the President's Efforts to Promote Healthy Marriage

August 22, 2003 32 min read

Authors: Lauren Noyes and Robert Rector

The erosion of marriage over the past four decades has had large-scale negative effects on children and adults and lies at the heart of many social problems with which government is currently grappling. The beneficial effects of marriage, both for individuals and for society, are beyond reasonable dispute, and there is a broad and growing consensus that government policy should promote rather than discourage healthy marriage.

In response to these trends, President George W. Bush has proposed, as part of welfare reform reauthorization, the creation of a pilot program to promote healthy and stable marriage. Participation in the program would be strictly voluntary, and funding would be small-scale: $300 million per year. This sum represents one penny to promote healthy marriage for every five dollars the government spends subsidizing single parenthood.

Regrettably, efforts have emerged to undermine the President's healthy marriage initiative by substituting an alternative dubbed "marriage plus." While proponents of marriage plus pay lip service to the importance of promoting marriage, this project is in fact intended to cripple the President's initiative by siphoning off limited marriage funds into traditional government activities that have little or nothing to do with marriage. Such ancillary "marriage plus" activities include job training, child support collections, pregnancy prevention and contraceptive promotion, feel-good programs for absent fathers, and traditional welfare benefits to "fight poverty."

Ironically, these ancillary activities not only have little or nothing to do with promoting marriage, but also already receive ample government funding. For example, the government spends $6.2 billion annually on job training, $1.9 billion on pregnancy prevention and contraceptive promotion, $3.3 billion on child support collection, and $150 billion on traditional welfare services and benefits to single parents with children.

If the proponents of marriage plus prevail, the President's healthy marriage initiative will be converted into a hollow shell. The program will still include the word "marriage," but the bulk of funds will be diverted to old-style programs that are unrelated to marriage and differ little from what government has done in the past.

The Importance of Marriage

Today, nearly one-third of all American children are born outside marriage: That's one out-of-wedlock birth every 35 seconds. Of those born within marriage, a great many will experience their parents' divorce before they reach age 18. More than half of the nation's children will spend all or part of their childhood in never-formed or broken families.

The collapse of marriage is the principal cause of child poverty in the United States. A child raised by a never-married mother is seven times more likely to live in poverty than a child raised by his biological parents in an intact marriage. Overall, some 80 percent of long-term child poverty in the United States is found among children from broken or never-formed families.

It is often argued that strengthening marriage would have little impact on child poverty because the absent fathers earn too little. This is not true. The typical non-married father earns $17,500 per year at the time his child is born. Some 70 percent of poor single mothers would be lifted out of poverty if they were married to their child's father.1

The growth of single-parent families has had an enormous impact on government. The welfare system for children is overwhelmingly a subsidy system for single-parent families. More than three-quarters of the aid to children given through programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and the earned income tax credit (EITC) goes to single-parent families. Each year, the government spends more than $150 billion on means-tested welfare aid for single parents.2

Growing up without a father in the home has harmful long-term effects on children. Compared with their peers in intact families, children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to become involved in crime, to have emotional and behavioral problems, to fail in school, to abuse drugs, and to end up on welfare as adults.3

Finally, marriage brings benefits to adults as well as children. Extensive research shows that married adults are happier and more productive on the job, earn more, have better physical and mental health, and live longer than their unmarried peers. Marriage also brings safety to women: Mothers who have married are 50 percent less likely to suffer from domestic violence than are those who have never married.4

The Growing Consensus on Promoting Healthy Marriage

The overwhelming evidence of the benefits of marriage for children, women, and men has led to a large and growing consensus that government policy should strengthen marriage, not undermine it. According to William Galston, former Domestic Policy Advisor in the Clinton White House, "Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.... [W]hether American Society succeeds or fails in building a healthy marriage culture is clearly a matter of legitimate public concern."5

In 2002, in remarks at the National Summit on Fatherhood, former Vice President Al Gore proclaimed, "We need to be a society that lifts up the institution of marriage."6 Mr. Gore and his wife concurred with the Statement of Principles of the Marriage Movement,7 which declares:

We believe that America must strengthen marriages and families.... Strong marriages are a vital component to building strong families and raising healthy, happy, well-educated children. Fighting together against the forces that undermine family values and creating a national culture that nurtures and encourages marriage and good family life must be at the heart of this great nation's public policy.8

Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and Isabel Sawhill, widely respected welfare and family expert at the Brookings Institution, recently issued a paper entitled "Progressive Family Policy for the 21st Century." Marshall and Sawhill repudiate "the relativist myth that `alternative family forms' were the equal of two-parent families," citing a growing body of evidence demonstrating that, in aggregate, children do best in married, two-parent families. They argue that "a progressive family policy should encourage and reinforce married, two-parent families because they are best for children."9

Policy Background

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of marriage to families and society, the sad fact is that, for over four decades, the welfare system has penalized and discouraged marriage. The U.S. welfare system currently comprises more than 70 means-tested aid programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to low-income persons.

Each year, over $200 billion flows through this system to families with children. While it is widely accepted that the welfare system is biased against marriage, relatively few understand how this bias operates. Many erroneously believe that welfare programs have eligibility criteria that directly exclude married couples. This is not true.

Nevertheless, welfare programs do penalize marriage and reward single parenthood because of the inherent design of all means-tested programs. In a means-tested program, the benefits are reduced as non-welfare income rises. Thus, under any means-tested system, a mother will receive greater benefits if she remains single than she will if she is married to a working husband.

Welfare not only serves as a substitute for a husband, but actually penalizes marriage because a low-income couple will experience a significant drop in combined income if they marry. For example, the typical single mother on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families receives a combined welfare package of various means-tested aid benefits worth about $14,000 per year. Suppose a typical single mother receives welfare benefits worth $14,000 per year while the father of her children has a low-wage job paying $16,000 per year. If the mother and father remain unmarried, they will have a combined income of $30,000 ($14,000 from welfare and $16,000 from earnings). However, if the couple marries, the father's earnings will be counted against the mother's welfare eligibility. Welfare benefits will be eliminated or cut dramatically, and the couple's combined income will fall substantially.

Thus, means-tested welfare programs do not penalize marriage per se, but instead implicitly penalize marriage to an employed man with earnings. Nonetheless, the practical effect of such policies is to significantly discourage marriage among low-income couples.

This anti-marriage discrimination is inherent in all means-tested aid programs, including TANF, food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food program. The only way to eliminate the anti-marriage bias from welfare entirely would be to determine each mother's welfare eligibility independent of both her marital status and her husband's earnings. Specifically, this would mean calculating a mother's welfare benefits by disregarding whether she was married and her husband's earnings level. Structured in this way, the welfare system would be marriage neutral: It would neither reward nor penalize marriage.

Such across-the-board change, however, would cost tens of billions of dollars. A more feasible strategy would be to experiment selectively with reducing welfare's anti-marriage incentives to determine which penalties have the biggest impact on behavior. This approach is incorporated in the President's healthy marriage initiative.

President Bush's Initiative to Promote Healthy Marriage

Recognizing the widespread benefits of marriage to individuals and society, the federal welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 set forth clear goals to increase the number of two-parent families and reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing. In the years since reform, however, most states have done very little to advance this objective directly. Out of more than $100 billion in federal TANF funds disbursed over the past seven years, only about $20 million (a minuscule 0.02 percent) has been spent on promoting marriage.

To address this shortcoming, President Bush has sought to meet the original goals of welfare reform by proposing, as part of welfare reauthorization, a new model program to promote healthy marriage. The proposed program would seek to increase healthy marriage by providing individuals and couples with:

  • Accurate information on the value of marriage in the lives of men, women, and children;
  • Marriage-skills education that will enable couples to reduce conflict and increase the happiness and longevity of their relationship; and
  • Experimental reductions in the financial penalties against marriage that are currently contained in all federal welfare programs.

All participation in the President's marriage program would be voluntary. The initiative would utilize existing marriage-skills education programs that have proven effective in decreasing conflict and increasing happiness and stability among couples; these programs have also been shown to be effective in reducing domestic violence.10 The pro-marriage initiative would not merely seek to increase marriage rates among target couples, but also would provide ongoing support to help at-risk couples maintain healthy marriages over time.

The President's healthy marriage initiative is often characterized as seeking to increase marriage among welfare (TANF) recipients. This is somewhat inaccurate. Most welfare mothers have poor relationships with their children's father; in many cases, the relationship disintegrated long ago. Attempting to promote healthy marriage in these situations is a bit like trying to glue Humpty-Dumpty together after he has fallen off the wall. By contrast, a well-designed marriage initiative would target women and men earlier in their lives when attitudes and relationships were initially being formed. It would also seek to strengthen existing marriages to reduce divorce.

Typically, such marriage-promotion programs would provide information about the long-term value of marriage to at-risk high school students. They would teach relationship skills to unmarried couples before the woman became pregnant, with a focus on preventing pregnancy before a couple has made a commitment to healthy marriage; they would also provide marriage and relationship education to unmarried couples at the "magic moment" of a child's birth and offer marriage-skills training to low-income married couples to improve marriage quality and reduce the odds of divorce.

The primary focus of these marriage programs would be preventative, not reparative. They would seek to prevent the isolation and poverty of welfare mothers by intervening at an early point before a pattern of broken relationships and welfare dependence had emerged. By fostering better life decisions and stronger relationship skills, marriage programs can increase child well-being and adult happiness and reduce child poverty and welfare dependence.

Program Specifics

The President's healthy marriage initiative has been included in the three major TANF reauthorization bills, including the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2003 (H.R. 4) passed by the House of Representatives in February 2003. It also has been included in the Compassion and Personal Responsibility Act (S. 5) introduced by Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) and will be included in the Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone (PRIDE) bill soon to be introduced by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) in the Senate.

The proposal creates two separate funds to promote marriage. In the first, $100 million per year would be provided in grants to state government for programs to promote healthy marriage. Participation would be voluntary and competitive. States would neither be required to participate nor guaranteed funds; instead, they would compete for funding by submitting program proposals to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The states with the best proposals would be selected to receive funds. States receiving funding would be required to match federal grants with state funds. In the second fund, another $100 million per year would be allocated in competitive grants to states, local governments, and non-government organizations.

Both funding pools could be used for a specified set of activities consistent with the overarching strategy of promoting healthy marriage. These activities would include:

  • Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and skills needed to increase marital stability and health;
  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills, and budgeting;
  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs, which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict resolution, and job and career advancement, for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers;
  • Pre-marital education and marriage-skills training for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage;
  • Marriage-enhancement and marriage-skills training for married couples;
  • Divorce-reduction programs that teach relationship skills;
  • Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities; and
  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any of the above activities.

Much of the debate about marriage strengthening will center on this list of allowable uses of marriage funds. Opponents of the President's initiative will seek to broaden the list to include activities that have little or no link to marriage.

Criticisms of the President's Plan

The President's healthy marriage initiative has been criticized on a number of grounds. Each of these criticisms is inaccurate.

  • Forced Participation. Critics charge that welfare mothers would be forced to participate in marriage education. In fact, all participation would be voluntary. Services would be provided only to individuals or couples interested in them.
  • Increased Domestic Violence. Critics charge that the program would increase domestic violence by coercing or encouraging women to remain in dangerous relationships. In fact, marriage-skills and relationship-skills training has been shown to reduce, not increase, domestic violence.11 Such programs help women steer clear of dangerous and counterproductive relationships.12

    Moreover, the domestic violence rate is less widespread among low-income couples than is generally assumed. For example, three-quarters of non-married mothers are romantically involved with the child's father at the time of the non-marital birth; only 2 percent of these women have experienced domestic violence in their relationship with the father.13 In general, domestic violence is more common in cohabiting relationships than in marriage: never-married mothers, for example, are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than are mothers who have married.

  • Shortage of Marriageable Men. Critics argue that marriage is impractical in low-income communities because men earn too little to be attractive spouses. This is not true. As noted, nearly three-quarters of non-married mothers are cohabiting or romantically involved with the child's father at the time of the birth. The median income of these non-married fathers is $17,500 per year. Some 70 percent of poor single mothers would be lifted out of poverty if they married the father of their children.14
  • Alleged Ineffectiveness of Marriage-Skills Programs. Critics charge that marriage-skills programs are ineffective. The facts show exactly the opposite: Over 100 separate evaluations of marriage training programs have already shown that, in general, these programs can reduce strife, improve communications skills, increase stability, and enhance marital happiness.15
  • Bribes to Marry. Critics charge that the marriage program will bribe low-income women to marry unwisely. This is not true. As noted, all means-tested welfare programs such as TANF, food stamps, and public housing contain significant financial penalties against marriage. The marriage program would experiment with selectively reducing these penalties against marriage.
  • Too Expensive. The President proposes spending $300 million per year on his model marriage program ($200 million in federal funds and $100 million in state funds). This sum represents only one cent to promote healthy marriage for every five dollars the government currently spends subsidizing single-parent families.16
  • Public Opposition. Critics claim that the public opposes programs to strengthen marriage. In fact, Oklahoma has operated a marriage program similar to the President's proposal for several years. Most Oklahomans are familiar with this program; 85 percent of Oklahomans support the program, and only 15 percent oppose it.17
  • Low-Income Women Not Interested. Critics charge that low-income women are not interested in marriage and marriage-skills training. However, at the time of their child's birth, more than 75 percent of non-married mothers say they are interested in marrying their child's father. In Oklahoma, 72 percent of women who have received welfare say that they are interested in receiving marriage-skills training.18

The Marriage-Plus Snare

Direct attacks on the President's initiative have drawn few supporters. More threatening is a strategy to deflect the President's pro-marriage agenda by substituting a counterfeit policy that promotes healthy marriage in name but not in substance. This counterfeit agenda is termed "marriage plus."19

On the surface, marriage-plus advocates often sound like ardent marriage supporters. For example, marriage-plus proponent Theodora Ooms of the Center on Law and Social Policy affirms the value of marriage to children, adults, and society, stating that "society should try to help more children grow up with their two biological, married parents in a reasonably healthy, stable relationship."20

Much of what Ooms supports is both good policy and common sense. For example, she argues that participation in marriage programs should be voluntary and that the policy goal should be "healthy marriage, not marriage for its own sake." Both of these ideas are integral parts of the President's plan.

Some of the activities that would be funded under marriage-plus schemes are also part of the President's pro-marriage agenda. For example, marriage-plus proponents wish to provide marriage-skills education, promote marriage among unmarried "fragile families" at the time of a child's birth, and reduce the penalties against marriage in the welfare system.21

However, the marriage-plus agenda differs sharply from the President's initiative, H.R. 4, S. 5, and the PRIDE bill by adding four extra spending categories: job training, fatherhood programs aimed at increasing child-support collections, pregnancy prevention and contraceptive promotion, and traditional welfare programs to "fight poverty."22 These spending categories would have little or nothing to do with marriage, and their inclusion in any "marriage" legislation would dramatically sap the funds available for authentic pro-marriage initiatives.

Job Training

The federal government already spends over $6.2 billion per year on job training.23 Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, overall spending on job training has exceeded $257 billion.24 The notion that fathers' lack of employability is the principal barrier to marriage is inaccurate. The typical unmarried father earns $17,500 per year. Attitudes about marriage and relationship skills are far more significant obstacles to healthy marriage than are male wages.25

Moreover, rigorous scientific evaluations have found government employment and training programs to have either no impact or a minuscule impact on wage rates.26 For example, a large-scale evaluation of the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) showed that the program raised the hourly wage rates of female trainees by 3.4 percent and male trainees by zero.27

Under H.R 4, job training may be provided, if needed, to individuals participating in marriage-skills and marriage-enhancement programs. To add job training as a stand-alone spending category within a "marriage" funding stream would cripple any future marriage program.

Pregnancy Prevention and Contraceptive Promotion

Marriage-plus advocates urge that marriage funds should be diverted to contraceptive programs on the grounds that once women have had children out of wedlock, they are less likely to marry in the future. But government already spends over $1.9 billion per year on pregnancy prevention and contraceptive promotion through programs such as Medicaid, TANF, Adolescent Sexual Health, and Title X.28 Overall, current funding for contraception/pregnancy prevention dwarfs the proposed funding for marriage; diverting limited marriage funds to even more contraceptive spending would clearly cripple any marriage initiative.

However, the President's healthy marriage initiative would promote the goal of preventing non-marital pregnancy in another, broader sense. Marriage programs would seek to encourage women to enter healthy marriages before becoming pregnant. In many cases, this would involve encouraging women to avoid pregnancy until they have become more mature and more capable of sustaining a viable healthy relationship. This approach would differ greatly from simply handing out contraceptives.

Fatherhood and Child Support Collections

Marriage programs differ greatly from fatherhood programs. Marriage-promotion programs deal with individuals early in their lives or early in their relationship when the prospects for healthy marriage are strongest. Typically, marriage programs would deal with high-school students, young adults interested in marriage, engaged couples, or non-married couples at the "magic moment" of a child's birth. Marriage programs might also help currently married couples to enhance marital stability and reduce the likelihood of divorce.

By contrast, fatherhood programs generally deal with couples long after their relationships have failed, at a time when healthy marriage is least likely to occur. Fatherhood programs typically serve divorced fathers or non-married fathers who have had a broken relationship with the mothers of their children for several years. Typically, these fathers are failing to pay child support and have only intermittent contact either with their children or with the child's mother. These couples are poor candidates for marriage; consequently, most fatherhood programs do not have marriage as a major goal, but instead seek to increase child support payments and visitation of children by absent fathers.

Despite a general lack of success, fatherhood programs are currently well-funded. States spend around $100 million per year in TANF funds on fatherhood programs.29 H.R. 4 and the PRIDE bill would increase funding for fatherhood by $20 million per year. Overall, marriage and fatherhood programs have little in common. Fatherhood programs, in general, have little interest in marriage and serve clients for whom healthy marriage is, at present, not a likely option. To divert marriage funds into such fatherhood programs would therefore be counterproductive.

Reducing Stress by Reducing Poverty

Marriage-plus supporters also wish to "promote marriage" by relieving economic stress and poverty.30 In practice, this means increasing benefits and services through conventional welfare programs that benefit primarily single mothers.

One notable example of this strategy is the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). MFIP was an income-support program designed to raise the income of welfare families by allowing them to retain a greater share of AFDC/TANF benefits while holding a job.31 Ninety percent of MFIP beneficiaries were single parents. True, evaluation did show that one side effect of MFIP was a very modest increase in marriage rates among beneficiaries, but this effect was purely accidental.MFIP was neither designed nor intended to increase marriage; the desirability of marriage was never mentioned as part of the program. Despite the fact that increasing marriage was not an MFIP goal and any pro-marriage effects of the program were strictly accidental, liberals now promote MFIP as a "marriage program" par excellence.

In fact, programs like MFIP could be funded under the President's healthy marriage initiative, H.R. 4, and the PRIDE bill if they were combined with marriage-skills training. However, this compromise is unsatisfactory to liberals who demand that MFIP should be funded as a stand-alone component of any marriage program.

This promotion of the unmodified MFIP as a "marriage" program is a clear example of efforts to hijack the healthy marriage agenda. MFIP has long been a pet program of liberals for reasons that have nothing to do with marriage. The main goal of MFIP was to raise the income of welfare families, who are primarily single parents.

For state-level bureaucrats who are nervous about the marriage issue, MFIP represents a golden opportunity to divert marriage funds into a conventional welfare agenda. MFIP differs little from what most states have already done as part of welfare reform. If included as part of healthy marriage legislation, MFIP would allow state bureaucrats to claim that existing TANF "earnings disregards" are already pro-marriage initiatives, thereby greatly reducing any prospects for real change.32

Ironically, counting MFIP as a marriage program would allow bureaucrats to fund and operate a "marriage" program without even mentioning the fearsome "m" word. Clearly, including an unmodified MFIP as an allowable component of the healthy marriage initiative would severely dissipate available marriage funds.

Marriage Plus: A Concrete Example

A clear illustration of the marriage-plus agenda can be seen in a paper published last year at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), authored by Jodie Levin-Epstein, Theodora Ooms, and others.33 After lauding the importance of marriage to children, the authors urge that the proposed funding for marriage promotion in welfare reauthorization should be cut from $300 million per year to $100 million. Further, they argue that the $100 million pot should be divided into thirds: one-third for pregnancy prevention, one-third for child support collections, and one-third for marriage promotion.

Under this proposal, the funding for marriage promotion would be cut by nearly 90 percent, from $300 million to $33 million. With friends like these, marriage promotion does not need any enemies.

The Baucus Marriage Program: An Earmark for Everything Under the Sun

Another example of a "marriage plus" agenda is the WORK act introduced by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) in the Senate Finance Committee in June 2002. As part of the overall welfare reauthorization package, the WORK bill would allocate $200 million per year to a "healthy marriage promotion grants" program.

But this program is about marriage in name only. Indeed, most of the activities that qualify for funding under the Baucus marriage program have nothing to do with marriage. For example, the bill's list of fundable marriage activities includes "broad-based income support and supplementation strategies...that provide increased assistance to low income working families, such as housing, transportation, and transitional benefits, and that do not exclude families from participation based on the number of parents in the household."34

This provision means that, under the Baucus bill, providing cash, public housing, health care, or day care to single mothers would constitute a "pro-marriage" activity. In other words, the marriage grant program is designed to support the vast array of conventional welfare services rather than to promote and support healthy marriages.

The unfortunate fact that Senator Baucus's "healthy marriage promotion" program has nothing to do with marriage should not be surprising. Senator Baucus has publicly stated that, while it is imperative for the government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing single parenthood, he would oppose spending even modest sums to promote healthy marriages because marriage "is not something the government should interfere with."35 Regrettably but understandably, his marriage program is not about marriage.

Are Legislative Details Really that Important?

Under most healthy-marriage legislation, all grants would be allocated competitively by HHS. Thus, it could be argued that the array of activities that would be fundable under the legislation would not be critical since the Bush Administration could steer funds to sincere marriage initiatives irrespective of the broadness of the underlying legislative language.

Such a hope is shortsighted. If the actual marriage legislation listed an open-ended array of allowable "marriage" activities, it would be difficult for the Administration to exclude funding job training, pregnancy prevention, and other marriage-plus programs.

Moreover, if enacted, the healthy marriage initiative will set the foundation for marriage policy for a decade or longer. If, at the onset, the marriage program incorporates elements that have little or nothing to do with marriage, over time it would prove very difficult to prevent the HHS bureaucracy from diverting substantial funds to non-marriage activities. This would be especially true in any future Administration that might be unsympathetic to the marriage agenda.


The institution of marriage has been shown to be of overwhelming benefit to children, adults, and society; but for more than 50 years, government policy has discouraged marriage. There is now a broad consensus that this trend should be reversed and that government should promote healthy marriage. Marriage promotion has the potential to significantly decrease poverty and dependence while increasing child well-being and adult happiness.

In response to these trends, President Bush has developed a pilot initiative that would fund innovative programs aimed at promoting marriage. Opponents of the President's initiative have proposed an alternative strategy termed "marriage plus." This alternative is a counterfeit. While proponents of "marriage plus" pay lip service to the importance of marriage, their plan would channel funds into conventional benefits and services that already are amply funded by the government and have little or no linkage to marriage.

In many respects, marriage plus simply pastes the word "marriage" on top of existing government programs. But the issue of marriage is too important for this type of semantic subterfuge. Marriage has declined steadily for 40 years with devastating effects on society. What is needed is not more of the status quo, but new programs aimed at increasing healthy marriage. H.R. 4, S. 5, and the PRIDE bill would create these badly needed programs.

Robert E. Rector is Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy, Melissa G. Pardue is Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Social Welfare Policy, and Lauren R. Noyes is Director of Research Projects in Domestic Policy at The Heritage Foundation.


1. Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Patrick F. Fagan, and Lauren R. Noyes, "Increasing Marriage Will Dramatically Reduce Child Poverty," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA03-06, May 20, 2003.

2. Robert Rector, "The Size and Scope of Means-Tested Welfare Spending," testimony before Committee on the Budget, U.S. House of Representatives, August 1, 2001.

3. Patrick Fagan, Robert Rector, Kirk Johnson, and America Peterson, "The Positive Effects of Marriage: A Book of Charts," The Heritage Foundation, April 2002.

4. Patrick F. Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, "Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1535, April 10, 2002.

5. "Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences," Institute for American Values, New York, 2000, p. 6.

6. Scott Shepard, "Gore Outlines Reforms to Make Absent Fathers More Responsible," Cox News, June 3, 2000, at http://www.coxnews.com/2000/news/cox/060300_gore.html (December 9, 2002).

7. The Marriage Movement consists of a coalition of organizations that have joined to encourage and strengthen marriage. The Statement of Principles details the current "marriage crisis"; refutes arguments against marriage; defines marriage; explains the importance of marriage and costs of divorce; describes several pro-marriage movements currently ongoing; and outlines a call for action for government entities, married couples, and others. See http://www.marriagemovement.org/html/report.html (December 16, 2002).

8. Vice President Al and Tipper Gore, signed letter to "Supporters of The Marriage Movement, c/o Institute for American Values" from the Gore Campaign 2000, July 1, 2000.

9. Will Marshall and Isabel Sawhill, "Progressive Family Policy in the 21st Century," presented at Maxwell Conference on Public Policy and the Family, Syracuse University, October 24-25, 2002.

10. Patrick F. Fagan, Robert W. Patterson, and Robert E. Rector, "Marriage and Welfare Reform: The Overwhelming Evidence that Marriage Education Works," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1606, October 25, 2002.

11. Ibid.

12. Some critics seem to assume that marriage programs would encourage women to marry abusive boyfriends or would try to use marriage to improve abusive relationships. No marriage program would do this; all rest on the premise that marriage is inappropriate when significant physical abuse exists.

14. Ibid. Data are taken from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study at Princeton University, available at http://crcw.princeton.edu/fragilefamilies. See also Wendy Sigle-Rushton, "For Richer or Poorer," Center for Research on Child Well-Being, Working Paper No. 301-17-FF, 2001.

17. Christine A. Johnson et al., Marriage in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Bureau for Social Research, June 2002, p. 31.

18. Ibid., p. 35.

19. Theodora Ooms, "Marriage Plus," The American Prospect, April 8, 2002. See also Daniel T. Lichter, "Marriage as Public Policy," Progressive Policy Institute, September 2001.

20. Theodora Ooms, "Marriage and Government: Strange Bedfellows?" Policy Brief, Center for Law and Social Policy, August 2002, p. 4.

21. Ooms, "Marriage Plus."

22. Ibid.

23. Vee Burke, Cash and Noncash Benefits for Persons with Limited Income: Eligibility Rules, Recipients and Expenditure Data, FY 1998-FY 2000, November 19, 2001, p. 221.

24. Federal job training expenditures from 1965 to 2000 in constant 2000 dollars.

25. Marcia Carlson, Sara McLanahan, and Paula England, "Union Formation and Dissolution in Fragile Families," Center for Research on Child Well-Being, Working Paper No. 01-06-FF, November 2002.

26. Barbara Goldman, Impacts of the Immediate Job Search Assistance Experience: Louisville WIN Research Laboratory Project (New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 1981); Larry L. Orr, Howard S. Bloom, Stephen H. Bell, Fred Doolittle, Winston Lin, and George Cave, Does Training for the Disadvantaged Work? Evidence from the National JTPA Study (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 1996); Michael J. Puma and Nancy R. Burstein, "The National Evaluation of the Food Stamp Employment and Training Program," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1994), pp. 311-330; James C. Quint, Johannes M. Bos, and Denise F. Polit, New Chance: Final Report on a Comprehensive Program for Disadvantaged Young Mothers and Their Children (New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 1997); Peter Z. Schochet, John Burghardt, and Steven Glazerman, National Job Corps Study: The Impacts of Job Corps on Participant's Employment and Related Outcomes (Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2001); and Carl Wolfhagen, Job Search Strategies: Lessons from the Louisville WIN Laboratory (New York: Manpower Research Demonstration Corporation, 1983).

27. Howard Bloom et al., National JTPA Study Overview: Title II-A Impacts on Earnings and Employment at 18 Months, Abt Associates Inc., January 1993.

28. In FY 2002, the federal government spent the following sums on contraceptive promotion and pregnancy prevention: under the Title X Family Planning program, $212 million; under Medicaid, $927 million; under TANF, $324 million; under the Division of Adolescent School Health, $38 million. Additional federal funds were allocated under smaller federal programs. Some $276 million in state government funding was also allocated to pregnancy prevention.

29. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) Fifth Annual Report to Congress, February 2003, pp. 11-56. The report shows that $115 million in federal TANF funds was spent on "two parent formation" in FY 2001. Nearly all of this expenditure was for fatherhood and child support collection programs rather than for marriage programs.

30. Ooms, "Marriage Plus."

31. Cynthia Miller et al., MFIP Reforming Welfare and Rewarding Work: Final Report on the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Volume One: Effects on Adults, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, September 2000. AFDC refers to the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.

32. A central component of MFIP was an increase in the earnings-disregard rate. Most states have already increased TANF disregard rates as part of welfare reform. In welfare programs, benefits are reduced as earnings increase; a high disregard rate allows individuals to retain more welfare benefits while employed. For example, with zero earnings disregard, TANF benefits would be cut by $1.00 for each $1.00 in earnings. Alternatively, earnings can be disregarded to allow the welfare recipient to retain more welfare benefits while working. For example, with a disregard rate of 50 percent, TANF benefits would be cut by $0.50 for each $1.00 in earnings.

33. Jodie Levin-Epstein, Theodora Ooms, Mary Parke, Paula Roberts, and Vicki Turetsky, "Spending Too Much, Accomplishing Too Little: An Analysis of the Family Formation Provisions of H.R. 4737 and Recommendations for Changes," Center for Law and Social Policy, June 11, 2002.

34. Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002, section 301

35. Senator Max Baucus, "Remarks on Welfare Reform Reauthorization," National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, March 5, 2002.


Lauren Noyes

Robert Rector
Robert Rector

Senior Research Fellow, Center for Health and Welfare Policy