Ohio State Sociologist Finds Marriage Promotion Is Ineffective in Fighting Poverty

Kristi WilliamsA new study by Kristi Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, finds that the federal government’s efforts to promote marriage among single mothers as a way to combat poverty has been a dismal failure.

Dr. Williams notes that 46 percent of children in single-mother households live in poverty compared to 11 percent of children living in married-couple households. Welfare reform legislation passed in 1996 made marriage promotion an official government policy. “But, the flaw in this approach,” says Dr. Williams, “is the assumption that all marriages are equally beneficial.” She notes that single mothers in high poverty areas who wed are likely to marry men who will do nothing to help them get out of poverty. Many of these men are uneducated, have criminal records, and are unemployed.

Rather than promoting marriage, Dr. Williams says, “it makes more sense to provide women with the resources and knowledge to prevent births that are not planned.” She also notes that “paid parental leave and publicly funded child care for children under 3 appear to be especially helpful in reducing poverty among single mothers. These policies help single moms get and keep jobs, which was the primary goal of the 1996 welfare reform legislation. That should be our focus.”

Dr. Williams has been on the faculty at Ohio State since 2001. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology, all from the University of Texas at Austin.

The briefing paper, “Promoting Marriage Among Single Mothers: An Ineffective Weapon in the War on Poverty?” was prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families. It is available here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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