The central focus of my remarks will be to explicate the role that marital education, family counseling, and related services might play in promoting and strengthening healthy marriages and to discuss what we know about the potential of strategies that seek to ameliorate the key stressors (for example, job loss, lack of income, domestic violence, and childbearing) that make it difficult to form marriages in the first place or act as a catalyst that eventually breaks up existing marriages.
To summarize my conclusions: Marriage, Divorce, and Single Parenthood Encouraging and supporting healthy marriages is a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's proposed policies for addressing the poverty-related woes of single-parent households and, importantly, for improving the well-being of low-income children.
While our collective hand-wringing about the number of American births that occur out-of-wedlock is justified, what is often missed is that the birthrate among unmarried women accounts for only part of the story.
In fact, birthrates among unmarried teens and African-Americans have been falling — by a fourth among unmarried African-American women since 1960, for example (Offner, 2001).
The rationale is reasonably straightforward: About a third of all children born in the United States each year are born out of wedlock.
Similarly, about half of all first marriages end in divorce, and when children are involved, many of the resulting single-parent households are poor.
How, then, does one explain the fact that more and more of the nation's children are being born out of wedlock?
Because the nonmarital birth ratio is a function of (1) the out-of-wedlock birthrate (births per 1,000 unmarried women), (2) the marriage rate, and (3) the birthrate among married women (births per 1,000 married women) - the share of all children born out of wedlock has risen over the last thirty years, in large measure, because women were increasingly delaying marriage, creating an ever larger pool of unmarried women of childbearing age, and because married women were having fewer children.
Moreover, marriage can help children only if the marriage is a healthy one.
While the definition of a “healthy marriage” is itself subject to debate, it is typically characterized as high in positive interaction, satisfaction, and stability and low in conflict.