[House Hearing, 107 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
WELFARE AND MARRIAGE ISSUES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
MAY 22, 2001
Serial No. 107-28
Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
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COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
BILL THOMAS, California, Chairman
PHILIP M. CRANE, Illinois CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
E. CLAY SHAW, Jr., Florida FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
NANCY L. JOHNSON, Connecticut ROBERT T. MATSUI, California
AMO HOUGHTON, New York WILLIAM J. COYNE, Pennsylvania
WALLY HERGER, California SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
JIM McCRERY, Louisiana BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland
DAVE CAMP, Michigan JIM McDERMOTT, Washington
JIM RAMSTAD, Minnesota GERALD D. KLECZKA, Wisconsin
JIM NUSSLE, Iowa JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
SAM JOHNSON, Texas RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
JENNIFER DUNN, Washington MICHAEL R. McNULTY, New York
MAC COLLINS, Georgia WILLIAM J. JEFFERSON, Louisiana
ROB PORTMAN, Ohio JOHN S. TANNER, Tennessee
PHIL ENGLISH, Pennsylvania XAVIER BECERRA, California
WES WATKINS, Oklahoma KAREN L. THURMAN, Florida
J.D. HAYWORTH, Arizona LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
JERRY WELLER, Illinois EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
KENNY C. HULSHOF, Missouri
SCOTT McINNIS, Colorado
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
MARK FOLEY, Florida
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
PAUL RYAN, Wisconsin
Allison Giles, Chief of Staff
Janice Mays, Minority Chief Counsel
Subcommittee on Human Resources
WALLY HERGER, California, Chairman
NANCY L. JOHNSON, Connecticut BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland
WES WATKINS, Oklahoma FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
SCOTT McINNIS, Colorado SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
JIM McCRERY, Louisiana JIM McDERMOTT, Washington
DAVE CAMP, Michigan LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
PHIL ENGLISH, Pennsylvania
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public
hearing records of the Committee on Ways and Means are also published
in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official
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converting between various electronic formats may introduce
unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the
current publication process and should diminish as the process is
C O N T E N T S
Advisory of May 15, 2001, announcing the hearing................. 2
Anderson, Hon. Mark, Representative, Arizona House of
Center for Law and Social Policy, Theodora Ooms.................. 51
Edin, Kathryn, Northwestern University........................... 76
Fagan, Patrick F., Heritage Foundation........................... 59
Marriage Savers, Michael J. and Harriet McManus, accompanied by,
Philip Cofer, Springdale, MD, and Terri Lucas, Lanham, MD...... 21
National Marriage Project, and Rutgers University, David Popenoe. 43
National Partnership for Women & Families, Laurie Rubiner........ 82
Oklahoma Health and Human Services, and Oklahoma Department of
Health, Hon. Jerry Regier...................................... 15
Steuerle, Eugene C., Urban Institute............................. 89
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Alternatives to Marriage Project, Boston, MA, statement.......... 107
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, New York, NY, Jacqueline K.
Payne, Martha Davis, Yolanda Wu, and Sherry Leiwant, statement
and attachment................................................. 108
WELFARE AND MARRIAGE ISSUES
TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2001
House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
Subcommittee on Human Resources,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:00 p.m., in
room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Wally Herger
(Chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
[The advisory announcing the hearing follows:]
FROM THE COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
CONTACT: (202) 225-1025
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 15, 2001
Herger Announces Hearing on
Welfare and Marriage Issues
Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA), Chairman, Subcommittee on Human
Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the
Subcommittee will hold a hearing on welfare and marriage issues. The
hearing will take place on Tuesday, May 22, 2001, in room B-318 of the
Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 2:00 p.m.
In view of the limited time available to hear witnesses, oral
testimony at this hearing will be from invited witnesses only.
Witnesses will include program administrators, researchers, and experts
on marriage and family formation issues. However, any individual or
organization not scheduled for an oral appearance may submit a written
statement for consideration by the Committee and for inclusion in the
printed record of the hearing.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
of 1996 (P.L. 104-193), commonly referred to as the 1996 Welfare Reform
Law, made dramatic changes in the Federal-State welfare system designed
to aid low-income American families. The law repealed the former Aid to
Families with Dependent Children program, and with it the individual
entitlement to cash welfare benefits. In its place, the 1996
legislation created a new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) block grant, which provides fixed funding to States to operate
programs designed to achieve several purposes: (1) provide assistance
to needy families, (2) end the dependence of needy parents on
government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage,
(3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and
(4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
The continued decline of marriage and rise in single-parent
families in recent decades have serious implications for American
society, and especially children. Children raised by single parents are
much more likely to live in poverty, as well as to suffer child abuse
and neglect, drop out of high school, and have children of their own
outside of marriage, often repeating the cycle of dependence.
Against this backdrop, the 1996 Welfare Reform Law included a
number of provisions designed to discourage illegitimacy and promote
marriage and family formation. For example, in addition to broad
flexibility to spend TANF block grants for such purposes, States are
eligible for bonuses for reducing illegitimacy and may limit benefits
for subsequent births to families already on welfare. Despite such
provisions, however, few States appear to use TANF funds specifically
to promote marriage and family formation, and the results of current
efforts are limited.
In announcing the hearing, Chairman Herger stated: ``I am very
concerned by the continued decline of the married, two-parent family in
America. Just today the Census Bureau reported that, during the past
decade, the percentage of families with children headed by women with
no husband present increased four times as fast as married-couple
families with children. These trends raise important issues in every
income bracket. But given the likelihood children in single-parent
households will live in poverty, the implications are especially
serious for lower-income families. That's why Congress allowed States
to spend TANF funds to promote marriage and discourage illegitimacy.
It's time to review what States have done, examine what's working, and
consider whether any additional measures are needed to better
FOCUS OF THE HEARING:
The focus of the hearing is to review how States have used TANF
funds to promote marriage and family formation. The Subcommittee also
will receive testimony on additional approaches or programmatic changes
that may hold promise in better promoting marriage and family formation
and discouraging illegitimacy.
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Any person or organization wishing to submit a written statement
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June 5, 2001, to Allison Giles, Chief of Staff, Committee on Ways and
Means, U.S. House of Representatives, 1102 Longworth House Office
Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. If those filing written statements
wish to have their statements distributed to the press and interested
public at the hearing, they may deliver 200 additional copies for this
purpose to the Subcommittee on Human Resources office, room B-317
Rayburn House Office Building, by close of business the day before the
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Note: All Committee advisories and news releases are available on
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call 202-225-1721 or 202-226-3411 TTD/TTY in advance of the event (four
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Chairman Herger. Welcome to today's hearing on welfare and
marriage. It is hardly news that the institution of marriage
today is under assault on several fronts. It is also not news
that children often suffer when marriages break up or never
form. Here is what the National Commission on Children, which
included then Governor Bill Clinton, and Children's Defense
Fund President Marian Wright Edelman reported back in 1991,
quote, ``When parents divorce or fail to marry, children are
often the victims. Children who live with only one parent,
usually their mothers, are six times more likely to be poor
than children who live with both parents. They also suffer more
emotional, behavioral, and intellectual problems. They are at
greater risk of dropping out of school, alcohol and drug abuse,
adolescent pregnancy and childbearing, juvenile delinquency,
mental illness and suicide,'' end of quote.
This is not to disrespect the millions of single moms and
dads working hard to raise a family alone. They are to be
commended for their daily struggles, which are often heroic.
But as legislators charged with overseeing government programs
to help poor families with children, this Subcommittee cannot
turn a blind eye to the negative effects family breakdown can
have on children. So what are we to do?
For starters, we must recognize the challenges we face. At
least three major social trends are at work here. First,
millions of marriages are being delayed or never occur as more
and more young people cohabit. Second, out-of-wedlock
childbearing remains at record levels, with one in three
children born outside of marriage. And, third, divorce remains
at near-record levels.
Yet even within the statistics are faint glimmers of hope.
In a recent survey, 82 percent of unwed mothers reported they
were romantically involved with their children's father at the
time of the child's birth. Almost half were living together,
and the majority of these unmarried mothers and fathers believe
they have a good chance of marrying the other parent. So a key
question is what happens to these families that keeps them from
forming permanent relationships? What can or should we do to
help young couples and new parents form more permanent
relationships, including, when appropriate, marriage?
In 1996, the welfare reform law attempted to answer the
latter question by allowing States to use cash welfare funds to
promote marriage and family formation. The logic was clear. If
States discourage out of wedlock childbearing and encourage
marriage, welfare dependence will shrink and children will be
better off. However, only a few States have taken up this
challenge. We are fortunate to have witnesses today from two
States operating programs in this area, Arizona and Oklahoma.
We look forward to their testimony. We also will hear from
researchers and experts about other ways to promote marriage
with certain cautions. Such cautions are not lost on us. We
should be clear that no one is talking about forcing anyone to
Americans rightly are concerned about government
involvement when it comes to sensitive issues like childbearing
and family formation. I am concerned about that, as well. But
just as we agree on removing marriage penalties in the tax
code, we should also think about removing marriage penalties in
public benefit programs. With the new welfare law, we started
to take steps in that direction.
Today, we will hear about what is working and consider what
more can and should be done. I look forward to all the
witnesses' testimonies. Without further objection, each Member
will have the opportunity to submit a written statement and
have it included in the record at this point.
Mr. Cardin, would you like to make an opening statement?
[The opening statement of Chairman Herger follows:]
Opening Statement of the Hon. Wally Herger, M.C., California, and
Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources
Welcome to today's hearing on welfare and marriage. It's hardly
news that the institution of marriage today is under assault on several
fronts. It's also not news that children often suffer when marriages
break up or never form. Here's what the National Commission on
Children, which included then-Governor Bill Clinton and Children's
Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, reported back in 1991:
When parents divorce or fail to marry, children are often the
victims. Children who live with only one parent, usually their
mothers, are six times more likely to be poor than children who
live with both parents. They also suffer more emotional,
behavioral, and intellectual problems. They are at greater risk
of dropping out of school, alcohol and drug use, adolescent
pregnancy and childbearing, juvenile delinquency, mental
illness, and suicide.
This is not to disrespect the millions of single moms and dads
working hard to raise a family alone. They are to be commended for
their daily struggles, which are often heroic. But as legislators
charged with overseeing government programs to help poor families with
children, this Subcommittee cannot turn a blind eye to the negative
effects family breakdown can have on children. So what are we to do?
For starters, we must recognize the challenges we face. At least
three major social trends are at work here. First, millions of
marriages are being delayed or never occur as more and more young
people ``cohabit''. Second, out-of-wedlock childbearing remains at
record levels, with one in three children born outside marriage. And
third, divorce remains at near-record levels.
Yet even within these statistics are faint glimmers of hope. In a
recent survey, 82 percent of unwed mothers reported they were
romantically involved with their children's fathers at the time of the
child's birth. Almost half were living together. And the majority of
these unmarried mothers and fathers believe they have a good chance of
marrying the other parent.
So a key question is what happens to these families that keeps them
from forming permanent relationships? And what can or should we do to
help young couples and new parents form more permanent relationships
including, when appropriate, marriage?
The 1996 welfare reform law attempted to answer the latter question
by allowing States to use cash welfare funds to promote marriage and
family formation. The logic was clear. If States discourage out-of-
wedlock childbearing and encourage marriage, welfare dependence will
shrink and children will be better off. However, only a few States have
taken up this challenge. We are fortunate to have witnesses today from
two States operating programs in this area, Arizona and Oklahoma. We
look forward to their testimony. We also will hear from researchers and
experts about other ways to promote marriage, with certain cautions.
Such cautions are not lost on us. We should be clear that no one is
talking about forcing anyone to marry.
Americans rightly are concerned about government involvement when
it comes to sensitive issues like childbearing and family formation. I
am concerned about that too. But just as we agree on removing marriage
penalties in the tax code, we should also think about removing marriage
penalties in public benefit programs.
With the new welfare law, we started to take steps in that
direction. Today we will hear about what is working, and consider what
more can and should be done. I look forward to all of the witnesses'
Mr. Cardin. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me first
state that I agree with the comments that you have made. I
think there is general consensus that marriage can benefit
children. All things being equal, children in married families
face fewer hurdles than those with one parent attempting to
fill two roles. Statistical comparisons between the poverty
status of children in single parent homes versus those of
married homes clearly highlight this divide. Of course, we must
recognize that these generalizations do not apply to every
circumstance, particularly when domestic violence is present,
and I very much appreciate your comments of caution about the
role the government should play in encouraging marriage.
However, recognizing the benefits of marriage and deciding
whether government should and effectively can encourage couples
to walk down the aisle are not the same thing. We need to be
honest about the lack of information we have on specific
programs designed to promote marriage. To avoid wasting
taxpayer money on unproven programs, we may be wise to
establish a demonstration project to find out what works and
what does not work to encourage and sustain marriage.
The bipartisan provisions in the legislation that was
authored by our colleague, Mrs. Johnson, and myself, and was
passed by this Committee and the full House last year,
contained some programs that would have helped in this area. I
think that can be a model for our work this year. There are
also some general steps that we can take to make marriage more
likely to occur and more likely to last.
For example, we can eliminate disincentives to marriage,
including barriers to two-parent families participating in
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). We should start
by reviewing the Federal two-parent work requirements in TANF,
which may actually discourage States from serving low-income
married families. Mr. Chairman, the only obstacle that could
prevent us from forging a bipartisan approach to strengthening
marriage would be if such an effort became a code word for
cutting poverty programs or targeting single parents for
punitive action. I hope this will not happen.
We should all recognize that the connection between
marriage and poverty is a two-way street. Increasing marriage
may help alleviate poverty, but reducing economic hardship can
also promote marriage. Consider a program in Minnesota, which
found that welfare recipients were more likely to get married
and stay married when they were allowed to increase their
income by supplementing low wages with a continued partial
Listen to the testimony we will hear later today about how
the lack of economic opportunity can affect decisions on
marriage. In short, low-income mothers have told researchers
that fathers who have little prospect of bringing home a
regular paycheck are not marriage material. Just think for a
moment about how the problems that poverty brings into a
neighborhood, such as crime, drug addiction and hopelessness,
presents additional barriers to family formation. All these
issues suggest that we should do more to reduce poverty, not
less, if we are truly interested in creating an environment in
which parents are more likely to become and stay married.
I look forward to hearing the witnesses today and working
with you, Mr. Chairman, so that we can forge a bipartisan
approach to encourage marriage and remove the disincentives
that are included in existing law.
[The opening statement of Mr. Cardin follows:]
Opening Statement of the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C., Maryland
Mr. Chairman, I think there is a general consensus that marriage
can benefit children. All things being equal, children in married
families face fewer hurdles than those with one parent attempting to
fill two roles. Statistical comparisons between the poverty status of
children in single-parent homes versus those in married homes clearly
highlight this divide. Of course, we must recognize these
generalizations do not apply to every circumstance, particularly when
domestic violence is present.
However, recognizing the benefits of marriage and deciding whether
government should or effectively can encourage couples to walk down the
aisle are not the same thing. We need to be honest about the lack of
information we have on specific programs designed to promote marriage.
To avoid wasting the taxpayers money on unproven programs, we may be
wise to establish a demonstration project to find out what works and
what doesn't work to encourage and sustain marriage. The bipartisan
provisions on fatherhood and marriage that this subcommittee and the
full House passed last year, but which were not considered by the other
body, could act as model for such a program.
There are also some general steps we can take to make marriage more
likely to occur and more likely to last. For example, we can eliminate
disincentives to marriage, including barriers to two-parent families
participating in TANF. We should start by reviewing the Federal two-
parent work requirement in TANF, which may actually discourage States
from serving low-income, married families.
Mr. Chairman, the only obstacle that could prevent us from forging
a bipartisan approach to strengthening marriage would be if such an
effort became a code-word for cutting poverty programs or targeting
single parents for punitive action. I hope this will not happen.
We should all recognize that the connection between marriage and
poverty is a two-way street: increasing marriage may help alleviate
poverty, but reducing economic hardship also promotes marriage.
Consider a program in Minnesota which found that welfare recipients
were more likely to get married and to stay married when they were
allowed to increase their income by supplementing low-wages with a
continued, partial welfare benefit.
Listen to testimony we will hear later today about how the lack of
economic opportunity can affect decisions on marriage. In short, low-
income mothers have told researchers that fathers who have little
prospect of bringing home a regular paycheck are not marriage material.
And just think for a moment about how the problems that poverty
brings into neighborhoods, such as crime, drug addiction and
hopelessness, present additional barriers to family formation. All of
these issues suggest that we should do more to reduce poverty, not
less, if we are truly interested in creating an environment in which
parents are more likely to become and stay married.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about their
perceptions on these important issues. Thank you.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much. I appreciate the
comments of the ranking Member, and I think we share some good
intentions and goals here. I thank you very much, Mr. Cardin.
Before we move on to our testimony this afternoon, I want to
remind witnesses to limit their oral statements to five
minutes. However, without objection, all of the written
testimony will be made part of the permanent record. Will the
witnesses for the first panel please have a seat?
I would like to recognize our colleague from Arizona, Mr.
Hayworth, to introduce our first panelist, Representative
Anderson, Chairman of the Human Services Committee of the
Arizona House of Representatives.
Mr. Hayworth. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee,
thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It is my honor
to introduce an old friend, State Representative--from our
great State of Arizona--Mark Anderson. As the chairman
mentioned, Mark serves as chairman of the Human Services
Committee in the Arizona State House. Under his chairmanship,
Mark has been one of the key architects of Arizona's welfare
reform efforts. Through his leadership, the welfare rolls in
Arizona have been reduced 40 percent since 1996.
Arizona has also been successful in reducing births to
unmarried and teen mothers who face a greater-than-normal risk
for poverty. This is partly due to Arizona's efforts to
supplement its abstinence education program by adding an
abstinence-until marriage program to target teens and young
adults with this important message. As a result, in September
of 2000, Arizona was one of only five States to receive a $20
million bonus from the Federal government for decreasing its
out-of-wedlock birth rates.
Most recently, Representative Anderson was the sponsor of
legislation creating marriage skills training courses, to be
offered by community-based institutions and organizations and a
media campaign to promote healthy marriage and the need for
marriage preparation. I am glad Mark is here today to share
with the Subcommittee the success that Arizona has had in both
reducing out-of-wedlock birth rates and encouraging healthy
marriages. The success of Arizona to promote marriage can be
used as a model for the rest of the Nation as this Congress
begins to discuss the reauthorization of Temporary Assistance
to Needy Families. With that, Representative Anderson, welcome.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mr. Hayworth. I would now like
to recognize the gentlelady from Connecticut, Mrs. Johnson, to
recognize a couple of her constituents.
Mrs. Johnson. Well, thank you. They are not directly my
constituents, but I want to specifically welcome Mr. and Mrs.
McManus to this table. I appreciate your input at this
important hearing and your thoughts about how we can strengthen
marriage at the same time we reduce dependence on welfare. They
are not only contributing today themselves, but their son is my
chief of staff on the Health Subcommittee of Ways and Means,
and has dedicated many years to helping Congress find the right
way to solve our problems in the health-care area. So it is a
special privilege to have you here today.
Mr. McManus. Thank you for your gracious comments.
Chairman Herger. Thank you. Next I would like to recognize
a Member of our Committee, from Oklahoma, Mr. Watkins, to make
Mr. Watkins. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the
Committee. It is my real honor and privilege to introduce a
long-time friend. He is nationally recognized as a speaker on
youth and family, and specifically on marriage and health and
juvenile justice, and also has contributed to many books,
working on many books and many periodicals on various social
issues. But, also, let me say right now my friend Jerry Regier
is serving as Governor Frank Keating's Cabinet Secretary for
Health and Human Services, and he serves as Acting Director of
the Oklahoma State Department of Health. He was appointed
acting director back on June 1st of 2000, to restore integrity
in the Department of Human Services and the Health department,
where we had a number of problems, but as Secretary of the
Department of Health and Human Services, he oversees 70 boards
and commissions and 13 different agencies of the Department of
Health and Human Services. He has also held several key
appointments, one in 1992, by President Bush, 41st President
Bush, of this country, as National Officer of Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention in the Department of Justice in
1981, by President Reagan, who appointed him as Health and
Human Services, to serve as Associate Commissioner for the
administration of Children, Youth and Families, and established
in 1981 the Family Research Council.
So my friend Jerry Regier has got a long list of
achievements and accomplishment and dedication to youth and
also to families. I would just like to make this remark? My
colleague, Mr. Cardin, mentioned about reducing poverty. I can
assure you that is a situation, and having been raised in a
broken home myself--we used to call it broken home--and
poverty, and a mother who did everything--she said we were
going to stay off welfare--I can assure you that one of the
things that destroyed our family and probably motivated me to
be in politics today is because I had to go back and forth to
California three times with my family before I was 10 years of
age to search for a job.
It destroyed our family. My father was an alcoholic and
died an alcoholic, and probably because he did not have the
self-esteem of being able to bring a paycheck home to his
family. So that has been motivational in my life. I would just
like to say you can have a broken home and the separation and
all. It can either work in two ways. One, you can say I am not
going to let that happen in my own family and try to do
something with your life, or you can let it take you down to
the bottom of the gutter, and sometimes they use that as an
excuse, and poverty plays a big role in that.
So, Mr. Chairman and to the Committee, I think it is a very
timely time to have this meeting.
Mr. Cardin. Mr. Chairman, if you would just yield for one
Chairman Herger. I will yield.
Mr. Cardin. I notice that the McManuses are accompanied by
Mr. Cofer and Ms. Lucas, who happen to come from the State of
Maryland. Now, they do not come from my district, but we are
going through a redistricting in Maryland, so I am not sure
what my district will look like. So I would like to welcome you
to our Committee.
Chairman Herger. Well, thank you, Mr. Cardin, for
recognizing our other witnesses. So, with that, Mr. Anderson,
we would like to hear from you for testimony, please.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. MARK ANDERSON, CHAIRMAN, HUMAN SERVICES
COMMITTEE, AND REPRESENTATIVE, ARIZONA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Mr. Anderson. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members. For the
record, my name is Mark Anderson. I chair the Human Resources
Committee in the Arizona House of Representatives. Thank you
for this opportunity to speak with you today regarding welfare
reform and marriage policy. I have provided packets of
information which convey the essence of the research and the
background on the issue. I believe the reason that I am before
you today is that I was the prime sponsor of legislation which
passed and became law last year, that allocated $1 million of
TANF money for marriage skills courses, to be provided by
The courses are neither therapy nor counseling, but are
based on proven educational curricula. The legislation also
provided for $75,000 for the production of a healthy marriage
handbook that will be given to all Arizonans applying for
marriage licenses and $75,000 for vouchers for low-income
couples who want to take a marriage skills course and need
The legislation also established a Marriage and
Communication Skills Commission that oversees the
implementation of the legislation. As you are certainly aware,
the wheels of government turn slowly, and the Request for
Proposals (RFP) for the contract to provide the courses was not
let until this year. Bids are now in, and the Marriage and
Communications Skills Commission meets in 2 days to make its
recommendations for allocating the funding.
As you begin the process of the reauthorization of the TANF
block grant, I would like to strongly encourage you to urge
states to develop policies and programs that strengthen
marriage with the goal to lower the divorce rate.
I want to briefly mention a successful program in Arizona
that I believe is a model for how marriage skills policy can be
developed. In 1997, we passed our version of welfare reform in
Arizona in response to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. In that legislation was a
provision to combine roughly $1.5 million of Title V abstinence
education money with 2 million TANF dollars to create a pot of
$3.5 million, which has since increased to $4 million, for an
abstinence until marriage program.
The program is based on the principle that abstinence for
unmarried young people is the best choice and practical skills
are taught that enable someone choosing abstinence to be
successful in achieving that goal. Results from that program
are now coming in. Last year, Arizona was the second-best State
in the nation at reducing out-of-wedlock births, as Congressman
Hayworth mentioned, which enabled us to win one of the Federal
$20 million bonus awards.
However, when I first introduced abstinence education
legislation in 1995, many legislators were very skeptical and
the legislation was defeated. Yet two years later, abstinence
was accepted as an idea worth trying. Now abstinence is
regarded as the primary theme of the most sex education being
done in Arizona. Marriage skills education will undoubtedly
follow the same pattern. At first, there is a healthy
skepticism among lawmakers, followed by a willingness to try
it, and ultimately, based on the successful results, an
acceptance of the policy.
Both abstinence until marriage and marriage skill programs
are based in sound health policy. Scientific research indicates
that the choice to engage in early premarital sex increases
one's chances of experiencing numerous unhealthy outcomes,
making abstinence a healthier lifestyle choice. However,
without teaching the skills to remain abstinent, success will
be extremely limited. Likewise, preparing for a healthy
marriage includes communication and empathy for one's spouse.
If a person can achieve and maintain a healthy marriage,
studies show they reduce their risk substantially of
experiencing a number of negative outcomes.
Abstinence and marriage are health and lifestyle issues
similar to smoking, drug use or proper diet that schools
already address. Education is a legitimate function of
government, including educating citizens in ways that will
promote healthy living. The goal for marriage policy should not
be to eliminate divorce, as noble as that may be. Rather merely
lowering the divorce rate substantially will result in
significant savings in court costs, child support enforcement,
domestic violence programs, foster care, and so on.
Recently, the nation of Australia conducted a study to
determine the cost of divorce and discovered that the results
of divorce cost $6 billion dollars a year for that nation.
Australia has approximately one-fourteenth the number of people
as the United States. This would equate to a cost of about $84
billion here in this country. I believe it is time to take a
serious look at our priorities as we engage in a discussion of
the reauthorization of the welfare block grant.
How can we prevent people from becoming dependent on the
government in the first place? How can we increase the number
of children growing up in homes with a loving mother and
father? First, Congress must commit to the principle of healthy
marriage, and second give people the skills to make this goal a
reality. It has worked for abstinence until marriage policy in
Arizona and it can work for marriage policy here, as well. I
would be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Anderson follows:]
Statement of the Hon. Mark Anderson, Chairman, Human Services
Committee, and Representative, Arizona House of Representatives
For the record, my name is Mark Anderson. I chair the Human
Services Committee in the Arizona House of Representatives. Thank you
for this opportunity to speak with you today regarding welfare reform
and marriage policy. I have provided packets of information which
convey the essence of the research and background on this issue.
I believe the reason I am before you today is that I was the prime
sponsor of legislation which passed and became law last year that
allocated one million dollars of TANF money for marriage skills
courses. Provided by community-based organizations, the courses are
neither therapy nor counseling, but are based on proven educational
curricula. The legislation also provided 75 thousand dollars for the
production of a ``healthy marriage'' handbook that will be given to all
Arizonans applying for a marriage license and 75 thousand dollars for
vouchers for low income couples who want to take a marriage skills
course and need financial assistance. The legislation also established
a Marriage and Communication Skills Commission that oversees the
implementation of the legislation.
As you are certainly aware, the wheels of government turn slowly,
and the RFP for the contracts to provide the courses was not let until
this year. Bids are now in, and the Marriage and Communication Skills
Commission meets in two days to make their recommendations for
allocating the funding.
As you begin the process of re-authorization of the TANF block
grant, I would like to strongly encourage you to urge states to develop
policies and programs that strengthen marriages with the goal to lower
the divorce rate.
I want to briefly mention a successful program in Arizona that I
believe is a model for how successful marriage skills policy can be
In 1997, we passed our version of welfare reform in Arizona in
response to the 1996 PRWORA act. In that legislation was a provision to
combine roughly 1.5 million dollars of Title V abstinence education
money (including the state match) with two million TANF dollars to
create a pot of 3.5 million dollars (it has since been increased to 4
million dollars) for an abstinence-until-marriage program.
The program is based on the principle that abstinence for unmarried
young people is the right choice, and practical skills are taught that
enable someone choosing abstinence to be successful in achieving that
goal. The results from that program are now coming in. Last year
Arizona was the second best state in the nation at reducing out-of-
wedlock births, which enabled us to win one of the 20 million dollar
However, when I first introduced abstinence education legislation
in 1995, many legislators were very skeptical and the legislation was
defeated. Yet, two years later, abstinence was accepted as an idea
worth trying. Now, abstinence is regarded as the primary theme of most
sex education being done in Arizona.
Marriage skills education will undoubtedly follow the same pattern.
At first, there is a healthy skepticism among lawmakers, followed by a
willingness to try it, and finally, based on the successful results, an
acceptance of the policy.
Both abstinence-until-marriage and marriage skills programs are
based in sound health policy. Scientific research indicates that the
choice to engage in early premarital sex increases one's chances of
experiencing numerous unhealthy outcomes, making abstinence a healthier
lifestyle choice. However, without teaching the skills to remain
abstinent, success will be extremely limited.
Likewise, preparing for a healthy marriage also requires developing
or having a set of skills that includes communication and empathy for
one's spouse. If a person can achieve and maintain a healthy marriage,
studies show they reduce their risk substantially of experiencing a
number of negative outcomes.
Abstinence and marriage are health and lifestyle issues, similar to
smoking, drug use or proper diet that schools already address.
Education is a legitimate function of government, including educating
citizens in ways that will promote healthy living.
The goal for marriage policy is not to eliminate divorce, as noble
as that may be. Rather, merely lowering the divorce rate substantially,
will result in significant savings in court costs, child support
enforcement, domestic violence programs, foster care, and on and on.
Recently, the nation of Australia conducted a study to determine
the costs of divorce and discovered that the results of divorce cost
six billion dollars a year. Australia has approximately one fourteenth
the number of people as the United States. This would equate to a cost
of 84 billion dollars here in this country.
I believe it is time to take a serious look at our priorities as we
engage in a discussion of the re-authorization of the welfare block
How can we prevent people from becoming dependent on government in
the first place? How can we increase the number of children growing up
in homes with a loving mother and father?
First, Congress must commit to the principle of healthy marriage,
and secondly give people the skills to make this goal a reality. It has
worked for abstinence-until-marriage policy in Arizona, and it can work
for marriage policy here as well.
As we look at marriage policy as it relates to the bigger picture
of welfare reform, there is no doubt that the two are inextricably
Arizona, like most states, has successfully reduced the number of
families on cash assistance by half. Most of these parents are now
working, struggling to make ends meet, but doing the responsible thing.
As I see it, our main task now is to do three things regarding
First, we need to ensure that those who have left the rolls and are
striving to be self-sufficient have enough support; such as, child
care, transportation and training, to fully transition and not fall
back onto the system.
Second, we need to address the multiple barriers of those who are
still on cash assistance. One of the most significant barriers for
example, is substance abuse.
The third priority of welfare reform must be prevention. We must
ask the questions, ``How do people come to be on welfare? What
interventions could we make in society to stop the cycle of
To answer these questions, I first looked to the drafters of the
historic federal welfare reform legislation of 1996. The language of
the federal law states, ``(1) Marriage is the foundation of a
successful society. (2) Marriage is an essential institution of a
successful society which promotes the interests of children and (3)
promotion of responsible fatherhood and motherhood is integral to
successful child rearing and the well being of children.''
The drafters went on to clearly describe the four purposes of
welfare reform. They are:
(1) Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be
cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
(2) End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by
promoting job preparation, work and marriage;
(3) Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies;
(4) Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
In essence, the four purposes indicate that the key to breaking the
cycle that leads to substance abuse, addiction, irresponsible sexual
behavior and dependency on government is enabling children to be raised
in two-parent, married households.
Though there are many brave, caring single parents raising their
children alone, nearly all the recent studies have shown that children
raised in homes where a healthy marriage is present, do better in every
category of mental, physical and emotional well being.
Marriage is a personal and (often) sacred commitment between two
people in love. However, it is not a choice that has no effect on
society, like choosing a flavor of ice cream. The breaking down of a
marriage, or even existing in a marriage wracked by conflict and
violence, is the essential source of a host of social problems.
Government, funded by tax dollars, then steps in to clean up the
effects of these social problems. In Arizona, we fund child support
enforcement ($37.7 M), domestic violence shelters ($9.7 M), child
protective services ($113.4M), and millions more for juvenile courts,
domestic relations courts, cash assistance to welfare clients, etc.
It is time to move in the direction of prevention. As a first step,
marriage skills courses are going to be offered to young couples
preparing for marriage.
These courses have been proven to be effective in places where they
are being taught around the country. The Bar Association course, called
PARTNERS, is currently being taught in 175 schools in 30 states.
Young people who understand what marriage is about, and who have
the skills to communicate when differences arise, will have a much
better chance at success in the most important relationship of their
Their children will benefit by growing up in a stable home where
the parents model appropriate, loving communication, thus breaking the
cycle that leads to drug abuse, teen pregnancy, violence and
Will these prevention steps achieve a 100% success rate? No, they
will not. Divorce will still be a reality, even for some who take the
courses and learn the skills. This is not a panacea. It is a modest
step to address the source of many of our societal problems.
Organizations as diverse as the conservative Heritage Foundation
and the moderate National Conference of State Legislatures support
these types of programs.
With TANF re-authorization next year, Congress has a chance to lead
on the issue of strengthening marriage, which the Heritage Foundation
calls, ``the nation's paramount social goal over the next decade.''
Let's give these programs a chance to make a difference in our
children's lives. Let's strengthen our families, break the cycle of
drug addiction and give our children a better future.
Marriage has become one of modern America's most controversial
subjects. It's time to put this important topic on the table for public
discussion. Because our marriages are falling apart at an alarming
rate, our society is suffering tremendous damage.
A report released by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers
University found a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage
in America. The researchers said the U.S. marriage rate has never been
lower, the divorce rate remains high and Americans' marriages are less
happy than in the past.
``Marriage is a fundamental societal institution,'' the National
Marriage Project report says. ``It is central to the nurture and
raising of children. It is the `social glue' that reliably attaches
fathers to children. It contributes to the physical, emotional and
economic health of men, women and children, and thus to the nation as a
When marriages break apart, or fail to form in the first place,
there is a heavy human cost, but taxpayers are also paying taxes to
government for things like child support enforcement, domestic violence
programs, child abuse and neglect, not to mention welfare benefits to
mothers who are dependent due to divorce and court system costs. If we
can reduce the divorce rate in any measurable fashion, it will save the
taxpayers substantial dollars.
Providing marriage skills education will not create greater
government involvement in people's lives. In reality it will reduce
government involvement. Anyone having gone through a nasty divorce
knows that government (through the courts) dictates how much child
support will be paid, when the non-custodial parent may see his or her
own children and even whether or not the custodial parent may move to
another state! That is certainly government control. Getting divorced
or having children out-of-wedlock can be sure ways to ensure that
government is involved in your life.
The marriage strengthening courses that I am advocating are not
government-developed, government-taught or mandated by government upon
The courses I am referring to are developed by private
organizations that have learned over the years what works. They have
documented track records of success at helping couples prepare for
marriage and preserving existing marriages. The courses can be taught
by trained individuals at minimal expense and will be offered as an
option and opportunity to those interested in learning the skills to
create and maintain a strong marriage.
If the courses are taught in high schools, other courses, such as
mathematics do not need to be dropped in order to offer marriage and
relationship skills as an elective. This is not a zero sum game as some
naysayers claim. Of course, children must be taught math, science,
reading and history. Perhaps if they learned communication, listening
and the other skills necessary to be a good marriage partner, they
would also perform better in all the other academic disciplines.
In fact, government has already spent significant money researching
the problem of family dysfunction. The information should be put to use
to develop policies that reduce family breakdown. Policymakers in
Congress are no doubt looking for solutions that work.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the marriage education
movement should visit the smartmarriages.com website, which is a
clearing house for the many types of educational programs in this
In 1999, the state of Florida courageously led the way by passing
the Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act. By a nearly unanimous
vote, the bi-partisan bill was easily adopted and signed into law by
the governor. This legislation mandates that high school seniors must
take a marriage and relationship skills course in order to graduate
from high school.
Florida also gives a nice discount off the marriage license fee for
couples who can show they have taken a marriage preparation course.
There is a waiting period to obtain a license of an extra three days
for couples who have not taken a course.
Governors Keating of Oklahoma, Huckabee of Arkansas and Leavitt of
Utah are all strong proponents of strengthening marriage and are
working in high-profile ways to reduce divorce in their states and
educate their citizens as to the value of a healthy marriage. The
movement to improve the quality of all marriages and families is
actually a response to what Americans are calling for and is gaining
momentum as policymakers catch up.
If couples improve communication, who will benefit the most? The
children. Numerous individuals who have grown up as children of
divorced parents have spoken to me and written to me of the need for
this legislation. The pain that these people have experienced perhaps
could be prevented for future children if we as a society are willing
to take up the challenge and address the problems associated with
Finally, the longest term evaluation of a skills-based, premarital
training ever conducted has been a study comparing couples trained in
marriage skills to matched control couples (Markman, Floyd, Stanley &
Storasli, 1998; Markman et al., 1993; Stanley et al., 1995). Trained
couples have been shown to have about half the likelihood of breaking
up or divorcing, have demonstrated greater relationship satisfaction
and have shown lower problem intensity than the control couples, up to
five years following a weekend training.
For countless couples whose marriages have been saved, and for
their children who are now thriving in a loving home, there is no doubt
that marriage skills training works.
In conclusion, it is possible to lower the divorce rate in the
United States of America, and if it can be done, it should.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, Mr. Anderson; and now
we will hear from the Secretary of the Oklahoma Department of
Health and Human Services, Mr. Jerry Regier.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. JERRY REGIER, CABINET SECRETARY, OKLAHOMA
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND ACTING DIRECTOR, OKLAHOMA
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
Mr. Regier. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the
opportunity to come and tell a little bit about what we are
doing in the State of Oklahoma. Governor Frank Keating has
taken leadership in setting up the marriage initiative, and I
would like to share some details. In my written testimony, I
talk about the role of government, and I will not spend a lot
of time there, except to say the government is already involved
in families. I was recently at a national conference and a
local judge from Michigan put it this way. If you want
strangers from the government to tell you when to see your
child, how much money you should send them each month, how and
when you can communicate and how to divide the assets of the
marriage, then file for divorce. She went on to say, as a
judge, if you want to keep the government out of your life,
I thought it was put very well, and what we are trying to
do in Oklahoma is reduce divorce and thereby keep government
out of people's lives, in terms of the way that they get
involved during the divorce. The Governor has taken bold
leadership, and I think in a State, whenever you do a public
policy initiative, the first foundational steps are critical. I
have outlined several of those steps that we have taken. One is
that the Governor set out a measurable goal. He said he would
like to reduce divorce by a one-third in the next 10 years, and
so he set out the goal for everybody to begin to try to reach.
Second, we followed some key principles in our efforts that
I think are critical to laying a foundation for really seeing
something happen from a public policy standpoint. One of those
is we made very sure that we had a multi-sector strategy. This
cannot be a strategy where we just say to the religious
community you take care of it, or that we say to any other
community you take care of it, even the government.
So we took a multi-sector approach. We have seven sectors
that we brought to an initial conference that the Governor had
on marriage, and this was an opportunity for us to educate, to
inform, as well as to get information from these folks. We
invited 30 leaders from each of those seven sectors: community
service providers, education, business, media, religious,
government and legal.
Another principle, is that you must have leadership at the
top. If you are going to take on something like this, the
Governor really has to be committed to it, and our Governor is
committed to it. He also committed me to provide direct
leadership, as his Cabinet Secretary.
Another principle was ongoing operational management.
Anytime you set a policy goal, in order to reach that goal, you
must take the steps necessary to get there. We bid out the
operational management and the firm of Public Strategies got
that bid. They have been providing the structure for us to take
the marriage initiative forward.
The final principle that we followed, is that you must
commit some significant funding. Very few public policy efforts
are going to be successful if there is not significant funding.
In Oklahoma, we have reduced our welfare rolls by 80 percent
over the last 6 years, and consequently, if we could call it,
quote, ``a surplus'' that has come out of the TANF, it would be
about $100 million. The Governor committed 10 percent of that,
$10 million, and Department of Human Services (DHS) has set
that aside for us to develop programs to support and encourage
I want to talk about the two tracks that we have taken. One
track is a religious track and others will talk about that more
fully, but we now have about 550 religious leaders that have
committed to signing an Oklahoma marriage covenant. Basically,
that says they will not marry within their religious faith or
their sphere of influence without 4-6 months of premarital
counseling, and that they will also work to develop mentors
within their area of influence.
Secondly, what I would call the secular track. In this
track we have taken three existing structures--the health
department, which is psychologists involved in a guidance
system in all of our counties across the State. Secondly, we
have taken the social workers from DHS, which is the welfare
workers. Thirdly, we have taken the extension service of the
land grant college, Oklahoma State University. Each of these
structures are already in place; educators in the extension
system, social workers and psychologists.
We are developing a service delivery system that will
deliver marriage education, skills building education, across
the State through these structures. We are in the process of
signing that contract. We have chosen a curriculum, which I
talk about in the written testimony, called PREP, Prevention
and Relationship Enhancement Program, and we have primarily
chosen that curriculum because it is a very research-based,
skills-building kind of curriculum. We appreciate the support
that you can give to efforts like ours at the State level.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Regier follows:]
Statement of the Hon. Jerry Regier, Cabinet Secretary, Oklahoma Health
and Human Services, and Acting Director, Oklahoma Department of Health
Mr. Chairman and members, thank you for the opportunity to appear
before this subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee in order to
talk about the efforts of Governor Frank Keating and the State of
Oklahoma to support and promote marriage utilizing TANF funds.
Introduction--What can Government do?
Some will say that the role of government in supporting the
institution of marriage should be hands-off. I strongly disagree. As
the Governor's Secretary for Health and Human Services for the state of
Oklahoma, I oversee 12 agencies in my Cabinet. All of these agencies
commit major portions of their annual expenditures to the results of
the dissolution of marriage and the breakdown of family. Expenditures
on foster care, child abuse and neglect investigation, adoption, non-
marital births, juvenile delinquency, and a myriad of other programs
are primarily, although not always, the results of either families not
forming through marriage in the first place, or because of absent
parents due to divorce.
According to Census 2000 figures, more Oklahoma families are living
together and are not getting married. Unmarried couples skyrocketed in
our state from 27,000 in 1990 to over 53,000 in 2000. That's nearly a
100% increase. Couples give various reasons for the trend, from wanting
to avoid the marriage tax penalty to wanting to try out relationships
before marrying. Another Census figure shows that the largest family
demographic trend in Oklahoma is the proliferation of single mother
households. The number has climbed in the past ten years almost 22% to
over 94,000 single moms in 2000. The latest census numbers confirm that
Oklahoma needs to move forward with the Marriage Initiative to build
and encourage strong, healthy marriages.
Therefore, it is not a matter of whether the government should be
involved . . . they already ARE involved. The question is more ``What
role should government play to restore, promote, and honor the
institution of marriage so that marriages will flourish and be
strong?'' Recently at a national marriage conference, a local judge
from Michigan, Judge Helen Brown, put it this way . . .
If you want strangers from the government, through its court
representative, to tell you when you can see your child, how
much money you should send them each month, how and when you
can communicate, and how to divide the assets of our marriage
then file for divorce. But if you want to keep the government
OUT of your life . . . then STAY MARRIED!
So we believe that by strengthening marriage and reducing divorce,
we are promoting less government involvement in families. Most
legislators, when faced with the question of what role government can
or should play in marriage, will propose new legislation. But in
Oklahoma we wanted to take a different approach. We started somewhere
else and I want to outline that process.
Putting Marriage on the Public Agenda
In 1998, Governor Keating asked the University of Oklahoma and
Oklahoma State University economists for a joint study on what Oklahoma
needed to do to become a more prosperous state. He got the usual
economic analysis relating to tax issues and regulatory reform issues
but then he also got some surprising results. The economic researchers
found some social indicators that were hurting Oklahoma's economy. They
mentioned Oklahoma's high divorce rate, high rates of child deaths due
to child abuse and equally high rates of out-of-wedlock births. One OSU
economist wrote in an editorial, ``Oklahoma's high divorce rate and low
per-capita income are interrelated. They hold hands. They push and pull
each other. There's no faster way for a married woman with children to
become poor than to suddenly become a single mom.''
The study prompted the Governor to develop a strong social agenda
that he unveiled in his 2nd Inaugural (1999) and State of State
address. He set four bold social goals and convened the nation's first
Governor and First Lady's Conference on Marriage held in Oklahoma at
the Governor's Mansion in March of 1999.
Building the Foundation
Knowing that the first steps are critical to making a policy plan
work, it was essential that we build a solid foundation to ensure that
the Governor's goal of reducing divorce and strengthening marriage was
more than simply a political statement. Therefore, we followed several
First, we knew that such an initiative would need bold leadership.
So, Governor Keating stepped out boldly and announced a specific,
measurable goal--to reduce divorce in Oklahoma by 1/3 by the year 2010.
We knew at the time that the state's divorce rate was #2 in the nation
by state of residence, and the Governor wanted the challenge and
accountability of setting a measurable goal.
We specifically rejected the idea of appointing a Commission to
study marriage and divorce in Oklahoma and decided to initiate a Summit
to educate broad state leadership on the issue of marriage and divorce
in Oklahoma. This was a very successful beginning.
Second, we committed to certain key principles to guide us.
Our first principle was one of community collaboration and broad
involvement through a multi-sector strategy. We chose to personally
invite 30 leaders from each of seven sectors to the Governor and First
Lady's Conference on Marriage with a purpose of educating and informing
of the cost of divorce to the economy of our state, as well as the need
to promote and honor marriage. Those seven sectors are: community
service providers, education, business, media, religious, government,
The second key principle was to ensure leadership at the top. The
Governor has been very committed to this effort, and I, as Secretary,
have provided direct leadership to the plan and strategy.
The third key principle was ongoing operational management. To
manage the ongoing day-to-day activities of the Marriage Initiative, we
accepted bids for a Project Manager. Public Strategies, Inc., won the
bid and has facilitated tasks within the parameters of the Oklahoma
Marriage Initiative as follows:
Provide management of the varied projects and activities
of the overall Marriage Initiative;
Plan, develop, implement and coordinate a Governor and
First Lady's Annual Marriage Conference;
Plan, develop and implement a statewide marriage skills
service delivery system;
Provide central point for resource materials, resource
persons, and the development of a Marriage Resource Center;
Coordinate research of divorce and marriage in Oklahoma,
including data gathering and analysis;
Provide media support and awareness;
Initiate, plan and implement planning and status meetings
of Steering Committee, project director and staff, advisory boards,
separate project managers, and sector leaders;
Develop and utilize national consultants; and
Coordinate seminars, conferences and other training
The final principle was to commit significant funding. Very few
public policy efforts will be successful without a commitment to
funding. And since three of the four goals of the 1996 Welfare Law
relate to marriage, we look to Federal TANF funds to support the
Marriage Initiative. Oklahoma has dramatically reduced welfare roles by
80% over the past six years, leaving approximately $100 million in
``surplus''. This welfare surplus provided an excellent resource and
Governor Keating boldly asked the DHS Board to set aside 10% or $10
million for Marriage Initiative programs and services. The Board
concurred and the money has been reserved to fund strategies to
strengthen marriage and reduce divorce.
Finally, we have committed to communicating a balance in our
approach. Our efforts are targeted at strengthening marriage and not at
bashing divorce. Divorce will happen, and sometimes must happen.
Therefore, we want to clearly communicate the societal economic impact
of divorce, as well as the value of the institution of marriage.
Marriage should be encouraged as an institution to be in, rather than
an institution to simply make it harder to get out of.
The Marriage Initiative Implementation--Two Parallel Tracks
The implementation of the Marriage Initiative has taken two
parallel tracks--a religious track and a secular track.
The religious track was launched on Valentine's Day 2000, as
leaders of almost every denomination and faith throughout Oklahoma
joined the Governor and First Lady at the State Capitol to pledge that
they would work toward preparing couples for the complexities of
marriage. Under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Jordan, the State's
religious leaders signed a marriage covenant, committing to encourage
more pre-marital counseling for couples in their churches and other
house of worship. They also committed to encourage and develop marriage
mentoring. Since Valentine's Day 2000, over 550 religious leaders have
now signed these Oklahoma Marriage Covenants.
The secular track consists of reviewing the current government
infrastructure as it relates to social service delivery to see where
the Marriage Initiative could capitalize on the already existing
infrastructure to reach its ultimate goal of providing marital
education and skills-building marriage strengthening opportunities to
any Oklahoma couple. We developed training for government workers and
private providers to disseminate marriage and relationship education
services in all 77 counties.
The infrastructure partnership we've developed includes three
existing statewide structures. First, the Oklahoma State Health
Department has pledged its psychologists, child guidance staff, and
home-visiting nurses. Second, Oklahoma State University has a system of
``Cooperative Extension Service'' educators ready to provide
educational opportunities to adults. And thirdly, the Department of
Human Services has social workers eager for places to refer TANF
clients for marriage and relationship services. Each of the three
agencies already has staff in most or all of Oklahoma's counties.
The primary goal of the service delivery system is to deliver
relationship educational services to couples, both married and
unmarried, that are skills-based and research-based. Marriage success
can be learned. There are tools that are available that will empower
the couple to communicate effectively, resolve conflict and handle
other problems that, if unchecked, can lead to divorce. The chosen
curriculum is the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program
(PREP) Co-Directors of this curriculum are Drs. Scott Stanley and
Howard Markman, based at the University of Denver.
We chose this curriculum because it has the strongest research base
and evaluation record. PREP was originally designed as a program to
prevent marital distress and divorce, based on an empirical analysis of
risk factors. While most often used with younger premarital couples the
materials are also widely used to help married couples at various
stages throughout the marriage.
In general, most of the best-known couples and marriage education
programs have been offered to middle income white couples. By contrast
PREP has been used with diverse populations including foreign
countries. As an example of utilization of preventive services on a
large scale, PREP is now widely utilized in all branches of the Armed
Services. The preventive focus, hands on skills approach, format
flexibility, and empirical basis have supported the adoption of the
materials by the military. Since the armed forces are comprised of many
younger couples at relatively high risk due to low income, stresses of
military life, and dislocation from systems of social support, this
population has some similarity to the kinds of couples and families
that TANF funding was primarily targeted to aid.
The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative Scholars-in-Residence, Drs. Les
and Leslie Parrott, have been another resource available to Marriage
Initiative projects and programs. Early on Governor Keating pledged to
bring national marriage experts to the state to begin training pastors
and other professionals. The Parrotts, nationally respected authors and
professors of unique relationship courses at Seattle Pacific
University, were recruited as ``Marriage Ambassadors.'' Their training
expertise has been available to assist thousands of Oklahomans seeking
to build marriage programs and/or to strengthen their own marriages.
Based as adjunct facility out of Oklahoma State University, their
contributions also include raising awareness statewide through media
interviews and speaking engagements, conducing Mentor training events
(both in the religious community and in the government sectors),
sharing messages of positive relationship skills through conducting
college and university ``Can You Relate Days,'' and training
organizations in the curriculum they developed, ``Saving Your Marriage
Before It Starts.''
Benchmarks for Success
In Oklahoma, we are committed to evaluating the outcomes of our
efforts to strengthen marriage and reduce divorce. The Oklahoma
Marriage Initiative is working hard to improve the data available to
assist in best targeting services and programs to appropriate
The evaluation of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, to be conducted
by the Bureau for Social Research at Oklahoma State University, will be
comprised of: (1) a statewide poll to assess attitudes about marriage,
family, and childrearing, and to collect demographic data on marriage
and divorce rates in Oklahoma, (2) a multi-method evaluation of the
training and delivery system, and (3) suggestions for evaluating other
education and service programs. A five-part evaluation system is
proposed to address these three areas.
One major part of the evaluation component is to construct a phone
survey instrument that will be used to gather baseline data on
attitudes about marriage and family; demographics on divorces,
marriages, cohabitation; relational dynamics, etc. When right questions
are asked up front, they will provide a benchmark for any changes that
occur in the state. Government data on marriage and divorce is becoming
harder to come by or, when found, is poorly organized, and the survey
method is one way to circumvent these problems.
The Marriage Initiative Research Advisory Group, consisting of
several nationally renowned and Oklahoma researchers, will assist in
developing a strong research and evaluation plan. Members of that group
Robin Dion, PhD--is a research psychologist at Mathematica Policy
Research Inc., which has offices in Washington D.C. and Princeton, N.J.
This widely respected research firm has conducted studies in health
care, welfare, education employment and nutrition. Dr. Dion is
currently the Principal Investigator for a federally funded research
project, Strengthening Families with a Child Born Out-of-Wedlock. The
project grows out of the research on Fragile Families directed by Sara
McLanahan (Princeton University) and Irwin Garfinkle (Columbia
Ron Haskins, PhD--is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution, and Co-Director of the new project Welfare Reform and
Beyond. Dr. Haskins was former Majority Staff Director of the
Subcommittee on Human Resources, Committee on Ways and Means, US House
of Representatives. As such he was deeply involved in the development
of the welfare reform legislation. He obtained his Ph.D. in
developmental psychology at UNC--Chapel Hill. He has strong interests
in research and program evaluation. Haskins was author of the 1996,
1998 and 2000 editions of the Green Book, and has published widely on
welfare reform and other related subjects.
Norval Glenn, PhD--is the Ashbel Smith Professor of Sociology and
Stiles Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas. Dr.
Glenn specializes in family sociology, social change and survey
research. He has been involved with numerous national social indicator
surveys on marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock births.
His recent research has dealt with the longitudinal course of marital
Mark Neilson, PhD--joins the group from the National Opinion
Research Center, affiliated with the University of Chicago and conducts
survey research in the public interest for various agencies and
organizations. The research studies done by NORC often deal with
important public policy issues. They have extensive experience with
collecting data via survey methods that are later used to shape and
inform public policy.
Howard Markman, PhD--is a professor of psychology and co-director
of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of
Denver. He is internationally known for his work on the prediction and
prevention of divorce and marital distress. Among his many published
works on the subject is, ``We Can Work It Out: Making Sense Out of
Marital Conflict.'' As a co-founder of the PREP approach he has
appeared nationally on many network programs.
Scott Stanley, PhD--is a senior program consultant to the Oklahoma
Marriage Initiative. He is one of the co-developers of the PREP program
(Prevention and Relationships Enhancement Program) which is the
curriculum that will be adapted for use in the planned couple
workshops. PREP is the country's only research-based, longitudinally-
test marital preparation curriculum.
Theodora Ooms--is also a Senior Program Consultant to the Oklahoma
Marriage Initiative. She is the Director of the Resource Center on
Couples and Marriage Policy at CLASP in Washington, D.C. A former
social worker and family therapist she directed the Family Impact
Seminar for 17 years. Her interest areas include marriage, couples,
unwed fathers, low-income families and poverty.
Pat Knaub, PhD--Oklahoma State University, College of Human
Christine Johnson, PhD--Oklahoma State University, Bureau for
Don Hebbard, EdD--Director of Marriage Education, Oklahoma
Mary Myrick, APR--Project Director of the Oklahoma Marriage
Secretary Jerry Reiger--Oklahoma Health and Human Services
Raymond Haddock--Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, Governor Keating has widely
said that in Oklahoma it is easier to get a marriage license than it is
to get a fishing license and it is easier to get out of a marriage than
it is to get out of a Tupperware contract. We have taken significant
steps in Oklahoma to change our culture of divorce.
Oklahoma has demonstrated its ability to implement the welfare
reform policies of this Congress as evidenced by the fact that we
received two congressional bonuses for reducing our welfare roles. In
the coming months and years, you will see no less commitment from our
state on this important prevention and promotion strategy . . . to
prevent divorce by promoting marriage.
We pledge to continue to be responsible and effective with the TANF
surplus resources we allocate to strengthen marriage relationships. We
are appreciative of this opportunity to provide state testimony and
encourage your aggressive support of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
approach to meeting the goals of TANF legislation.
Jerry Regier is Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services for
the State of Oklahoma. A more detailed Marriage Initiative plan and
update of activities can be accessed at: www.governor.state.ok.us/
marriageconf.html. Email communication can be sent to
[email protected] or the Project Manager,
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, Mr. Regier, for your
testimony; and now the Co-Chairs of Marriage Savers, Mike and
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL J. AND HARRIET McMANUS, CO-CHAIRS,
MARRIAGE SAVERS, POTOMAC, MARYLAND, ACCOMPANIED BY, PHILIP
COFER, SPRINGDALE, MARYLAND, AND TERRI LUCAS, LANHAM, MARYLAND
Mr. McManus. We are deeply honored to be here and thrilled
that you are interested in marriage as it regards welfare. I
never really realized until about year ago that one of the key
provisions of your welfare reform law was to increase the
number of two-parent families and to strengthen them, and this
is exactly what we are about. I am not a researcher. I am not a
therapist. I am not a pastor. I am a journalist, the kind of
people you like to throw rocks at. I write a syndicated column,
called ``Ethics in Religion,'' and some years ago, in Modesto,
California, the newspaper that publishes my column invited me
to speak to the clergy of that area.
I had written a number of columns about what might be done
to reduce the divorce rate, but I had not seen any evidence
that the columns made any difference. So when I had a chance to
speak to all the pastors in the community at one time, I said
why don't you consider creating what might be called a
``Community Marriage Policy'' here, with the conscious goal of
pushing down the divorce rate, doing things that we know work.
For example, Catholics require six months of marriage
preparation. Protestants generally do not have any time
requirement in their marriage preparation process.
I said: Can you Protestants think about a 4-month minimum,
at least? Catholics, also, were experimenting with the use of a
premarital inventory that gives the couple who is preparing for
marriage an objective view of their strengths and weaknesses.
It could also be used as a way to bridge to older couples who
could be mentoring them and to talk through the issues that the
young couples are facing as they try to build a lifelong
marriage. The clergy of Modesto signed a ``Community Marriage
Policy'' that said their goal was to radically reduce the
divorce rate of those married in area churches. Well, they have
done much more than that.
The divorce rate in Modesto in 15 years has come down 47.6
percent. On page three of my testimony, I also point out that
the number of marriages in the community has risen, by 12
percent. At the same time, these two elements of decreasing the
divorce rate and increasing the marriage rate has meant that
there are many thousands more families who have solid homes and
children growing up in homes that are solid. Children of
divorce are twice as likely to drop out of school. They are
three times as likely to have a baby out-of-wedlock. What if
you had more marriages that work?
Well, you should see a drop in the school dropouts and in
children having babies out-of-wedlock, and that is exactly what
happened. The school dropout rate in Modesto is down 20
percent, and the birth rate of teenagers is down 30 percent. It
is down nationally all over, but it is only down about 10 to 15
percent, so this is two-to-three times the rate of the United
States. We have created these ``Community Marriage Policies''
now in 142 cities and towns across the country. These
communities--we do not have data on all of them, but in 35 of
them we have data, comparing the number of divorces before they
began the program and signed the community marriage policy with
the years afterward, and in 32 of the 35, the divorce rates are
For example, in Chattanooga, they are down 19 percent in 3
years. That is actually moving faster than Modesto did. The
core idea of what we are doing is mentor couples, and I would
like my wife to tell you about that.
Mrs. McManus. In every church or synagogue, there are
couples with strong, vibrant marriages who could use their own
marriage as a tool, as a gift, to walk alongside other couples
who are contemplating marriage, other couples whose marriages
are in crisis. These are mentoring couples that could be
available to go the distance with couples that are needy. All
that these couples need have done is to be invited, equipped,
inspired to become the mentoring couple. These mentoring
couples are exactly what we recruited in our own home church in
We trained 53 mentor couples in a premarital program. They
were available for 308 couples considering marriage. Of those
308, 250 ultimately got married, and 50 decided to walk away
from their relationship; six became married and were divorced.
This same concept can be used to form mentoring couples at
other stages of the marital lifecycle, those couples who are in
crisis and need assistance. So this is a tool where a mentor
couple can really make a difference, and couples can be
couples, such as my husband and myself or Terri and Philip
here, whom we have mentored.
They came to us as a seriously dating couple. Ultimately,
they explored their relationship, decided to get married, and
they are going to be married this August. So couples who are a
great reservoir, a great resource, who are sitting in the pews
of our Nation's churches Sunday after Sunday can be invited to
come out and bridge the generational gap, to be able to make a
difference in the face of marriage in our Nation. As our mentor
motto at our church in Bethesda is before you tight the knot,
let us show you the ropes.
[The prepared statement of Mr. and Mrs. McManus follows:]
Statement of Michael J. and Harriet McManus, Co-Chairs, Marriage
Savers, Potomac, Maryland
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to testify on welfare and
marriage issues. We are Mike and Harriet McManus, founders and Co-
Chairs of Marriage Savers, a non-profit group whose goal is to push
down the divorce rate and increase the marriage rate. We were organized
in 1996 the year welfare reform was passed by Congress. Our work has
been totally with churches and synagogues, not the government, until
We were surprised to learn, about a year ago, that the primary
goals of the 1996 Welfare Reform law are to promote marriage! Very few
people know this. While the ``M'' word is not in the law, the
legislation creating a new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) block grant, said its purpose is four-fold:
1. Provide assistance to needy families;
2. End the dependence of the needy parents on government;
3. Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
without increasing the abortion rate; and
4. Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
Clearly, the best way to accomplish all four goals is to reduce the
divorce rate and increase the marriage rate. The Census Bureau reported
on May 14 that only 51.6% of American households are headed by married
couples--the lowest rate in history! In 1970, nearly three-fourths were
led by married couples.
However, most states have ignored the law's clear intent in this
area, in our view. So far, 47 states have done absolutely nothing to
cut the divorce rate or promote marriage. Yet there is a surplus of $7
billion of TANF money that the states have not drawn upon. This is a
scandal. Immense sums are available, and they are not being used to
strengthen marriage, or to reduce the divorce rate. That's why one of
Marriage Savers' recommendations is that in reauthorizing TANF, that 5%
to 10% of the money be set aside for grants that might be made by the
Department of Health and Human Services to fund demonstration programs
designed to increase the marriage rate in America and slash the divorce
What can be done? Divorce rates can be cut in half and the marriage
rate can be increased. This is not simply a dream or a fond hope.
Marriage Savers has worked with the clergy of over 140 cities, dozens
of which have slashed their divorce rates. Let me summarize our
experience with the first city where I sold clergy on the idea of
creating what I call a Community Marriage Policy , Modesto,
CA., whose divorce rate is now down 47.6%!
The Modesto Community Marriage Policy
In 1986 I was invited to address the clergy of Modesto, California
by The Modesto Bee, which published the nationally syndicated column I
have written for 20 years, ``Ethics & Religion.'' In my speech, I urged
the pastors, priests and rabbis of the area to adopt what I called a
''Community Marriage Policy '' with the conscious goal of
``pushing down the area's divorce rate.'' I noted that some churches
were already taking steps to lower the divorce rate. Catholics, for
example, require six months of marriage preparation, while most
Protestants set no time requirement. Catholics were also the first to
train couples in solid marriages to help prepare couples for a
marriage. They are called ``sponsor couples'' or ``mentor couples.''
Catholics typically require engaged couples to take a ``premarital
inventory'' that can predict with 80% accuracy who will divorce. And a
tenth of those taking an inventory, break an engagement. Those who do
so, have the same scores as those who marry and later divorce. Thus
they are avoiding a bad marriage before it begins, and the rest are
helped to build a lifelong marriage.
I pointed out that the states with America's lowest divorce rates
are the predominantly Catholic states of the Northeast. (The divorce
rate of Massachusetts is about one-third that of Oklahoma, Arkansas or
Tennessee!) Catholics were also the first to start a wonderful marriage
enrichment weekend called ``Marriage Encounter,'' which prompts four
out of five couples to fall back in love. That's what happened to my
wife and me when we attended. . . . Further, a dozen Protestant
denominations now conduct Marriage Encounters: Episcopalians,
Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Lutherans, etc. I asked
Modesto clergy, ``Why doesn't every church plan an annual event like a
Marriage Encounter to strengthen the existing marriages in the
Further, I made a prediction: ``If the churches and synagogues of
Modesto were to implement what we know works to prepare for a lifelong
marriage, or strengthen existing ones, I believe the divorce rate here
would come down 50% in five years. Why do I say so? Europe's divorce
rate is about half that of the U.S. and less than 10% of the people in
Great Britain, France or Germany attend church weekly. The Gallup Poll
reports that four out of ten adults in America are in church or
synagogue in any week. With a church attendance that is four times that
of Europe, we ought to be able to at least reduce our divorce rate at
least to the level of Europe.
Some 95 pastors, priests and a rabbi in Modesto did agree to create
America's first Community Marriage Policy . In their preamble
clergy said, ``It is the responsibility of pastors to set minimal
requirements to raise the quality of commitment in those we marry. We
believe that couples who participate in premarital testing and
counseling will have a better understanding of what the marriage
Specifically, clergy required ``a minimum of four months of
preparation'' and to take a premarital inventory ``to help the couple
evaluate the maturity of their relationship objectively.'' Clergy also
pledged to provide ``a mature married couple'' to help couples to bond.
Finally, pastors set a goal ``to radically reduce the divorce rate of
those married in area churches.''
Modesto Divorce Rate Plunges 47.6%
Much more than that goal has been achieved. The divorce rate for
the entire Modesto metro area has plunged 47.6%--nearly cut in half, as
I predicted. True, it has taken 15 years, not five. Yet this is clear
evidence that the Community Marriage Policy works. In the
table below, according to the Stanislaus County Clerk, the number of
divorces in 2000 is 24% less than the 1986 number, even though the
population has grown from 307,000 to 441,400, a 43% increase in the
county's population over 14 years. By measuring the number of divorces
per 1,000 population in both years, a consistent comparable figure
emerges. The rate fell from 6 divorces per 1,000 residents in 1986 to
3.16 divorces per 1000 people in 2000, or 47.6%.
MODESTO (STANISLAUS COUNTY)
Marriages Divorces Population rate/1000 rate/1000
1986........................................... 1,391 1,852 307,000 6.03 4.5
1999........................................... 2,211 1,668 435,500 3.83 5.1
2000........................................... na 1,396 441,400 3.16 ...........
Modesto Marriage Rate Rises 12.3%
There is a second important story in this data. Note that in 1986
there were more divorces in Modesto than marriages--1,852 divorces and
only 1,391 marriages! But the Community Marriage Policy
reversed that trend by pushing up the marriage rate. In 1999, the last
year with data, there were 2,211 marriages, a big jump from 1,391.
While most of the growth of marriages is attributable to the area's
rapid population growth, the marriage rate has increased 12.3%. By
contrast, the U.S. marriage rate has been declining. It fell 17.8%
nationally, in the years Modesto's marriage rate has moved in the
Teen Dropout and Birth Rates Plunge
Children of divorce are twice as likely as those from intact
families to drop out of school and are three times as likely to give
birth out-of-wedlock. If divorce rates fall and marriage rates rise,
more children will be successful. In fact, within just seven years,
teen dropouts in Stantislaus County did fall 20% and births to
teenagers plunged 30%, or about three times the U.S. decline.
Divorces Plunge in 32 Cities With Community Marriage Policies
Nor is Modesto's achievement unique. More than 140 cities have now
adopted a Community Marriage Policy or a Community Marriage
Covenant as some cities call them. Divorces have plunged in
32 of 35 cities where a Community Marriage Policy has been
established, and data on divorces checked with county clerks. In each
of the 32 cities, divorces fell at least 10 times more than they have
in the United States! U.S. divorces have fallen from 1,181,000 in 1979
to 1,163,000 in 1997, a decline of only 1.5% in 19 years. By contrast,
in an average city such as Baton Rouge or Springdale, AR divorces fell
6% in one year after adopting a Community Marriage Covenant .
That is four times the U.S. drop in one-nineteenth of the time, or 76
times better than the U.S. (4 19 = 76).
Further, divorces are falling much faster in many cities than they
have in Modesto. In only three years, divorces fell 18% in Corvallis,
OR and by 19% in Chattanooga. Their 6% annual decline is twice as fast
as the 3% annual drop in Modesto. Even more dramatic is what happened
in El Paso where divorces plummeted from 3,176 in 1996 when a CMP was
adopted, to 2,179 in 1999. That's nearly a one-third decline in three
years. Finally, consider Kansas City, KS and two suburban counties. In
1995, the year before it adopted a Community Marriage Policy
there were 1,530 divorces. The CMP was adopted in 1996. By 1997, there
were only 1,001 divorces in the two county area, and a remarkable 863
in 1999. That's a stunning 44% plunge in only four years. Meanwhile, in
Kansas City, MO and its suburbs, divorces actually rose!
Why? There were no churches organized in Missouri, and the Kansas
City Star published a number of stories about the Kansas pioneering,
but the stories only appeared on the Kansas page of the paper.
Missourians did not know there was a Community Marriage Policy
across the river. However, the press coverage in Kansas must
have persuaded many Kansans in tough marriages to persevere. Within a
single metropolitan area, the divorce climate was transformed back to a
marriage climate, while the divorce climate reigned supreme in Kansas
The Core Marriage-Saving Idea: Mentor Couples
My wife Harriet, Co-Chair of Marriage Savers, will explain the core
idea of how churches can save marriages: what we call the ``Mentor
Couple.'' Every church or synagogue has couples in healthy, vibrant
marriages who really could be of help to other couples, but they have
never been asked, inspired or trained to come alongside another couple.
For example, at our home church in Bethesda, since 1992, Harriet
and I trained 52 Mentor Couples to administer a premarital inventory to
seriously dating couples as well as engaged couples. From 1992-2000
Mentor Couples worked with 308 couples. Each Mentor Couple spends six
evenings with mentorees discussing up to 189 statements on the
inventory, such as:
1. I am uncomfortable with the amount my future spouse drinks.
2. I value ``keeping peace'' at any price.
3. At times I am concerned about the silent treatment I get from my
4. I am concerned that my future spouse sometimes spends money
Our Mentors also use 13 exercises to help the couple improve their
communication and conflict resolution skills, to prepare a budget and
set goals for the future. This takes 2-3 hours per night over six
evenings. With what result? About 50 of the 308 couples broke off a
relationship or their engagement before there was a wedding, or 16.5%
of the total. But there have been only six divorces that we know of out
of the 260 couples who did marry--a 2% failure rate.
Retrouvaille is a weekend retreat developed by Catholics. The Lead
Mentors are those whose marriages once nearly failed. These ``back-
from-the-brink'' couples share details about how they overcame years of
adultery, alcoholism, physical abuse, etc. to build great marriages.
The results are stunning. Of 60,000 couples who attended, four out of
five couples have rebuilt their marriages. However, in most areas
Retrouvaille is held only 2-3 times a year.
Marriage Ministry is a similar proven way to save couples headed
for divorce, but it is based in local churches. Rev. Dick & Phyllis
McGinnis of St. David's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida
trained seven couples whose marriages nearly failed to help those in
current crisis. One woman had been in an adulterous affair for eight
years. Another man was an alcoholic who lost his job and was out of
work for two years. Yet, they identified 17 steps all experienced to
save their marriages. Over five years, these recovered healers shared
their path of recovery with 40 troubled marriages, and saved 38 of
them--a 95% success rate. This Marriage Ministry has spread to 25 more
churches, saving 90% of terrible marriages.
Stepfamily Support Groups: Some 46% of all marriages today involve
at least one spouse who was previously married. Families with
stepchildren are the most explosive in America--breaking up at a 65%
rate. Stepchildren resent their new ``parent'' and often drive them
away. Rev. Dick Dunn of Roswell United Methodist Church near Atlanta
created a ``Stepfamily Support Group'' led by couples with truly
blended families. Result: four out of five couples make it, the mirror
opposite of typical failure.
Marriage Saver Churches: An exciting development in recent years is
to see the emergence of what we call ``Marriage Savers Churches'' which
have virtually eliminated divorce by training Mentor Couples who put a
``safety net'' under every marriage. Christ Lutheran Church in Overland
Park, KS, for example, a congregation of 1,500 people, has had only two
divorces in four years since training Mentors. First Assembly of God of
Rockford, IL invited the McGinnises to train 14 ``back-from-the-brink''
couples in their church to work with troubled marriages. Local
therapists learned about Marriage Ministry and sent over dozens of
their toughest cases. In 3 years, the Mentors have met with more than
100 marriages headed toward divorce, and saved all but four of them.
Bread of Life, an inner city church in Kansas City, KS has had NO
divorces since training Mentors. By contrast, therapists save only 20%
of the troubled marriages.
Core Community Marriage Policy Elements
These are core elements of the best Community Marriage Policies:
1. Require at least four months of marriage preparation, the taking
of a premarital inventory, and train couples in solid marriages to
administer the inventory.
2. Strengthen existing marriages with an annual retreat, using
materials such as the REFOCCUS inventory for married couples, or the
``Ten Great Dates'' videos.
3. Restore 80% to 90% of troubled marriages by training ``back-
from-the-brink couples'' to mentor those in current crisis, such as
4. Reconcile over half of the separated with such courses as
``Reconciling God's Way.''
5. Help 80% of stepfamilies to succeed with Stepfamily Support
Governors Encourage Creation of Community Marriage Policies
Inspired by these results, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared a
``marital emergency'' in his state since his state's divorce rate is
one of the nation's highest. He set the ambitious goal to slash the
divorce rate by 50% by decade's end, and he invited my wife and I to
speak to both the state's religious leaders and to local pastors. At
these meetings, Gov. Huckabee urged every city or town to adopt a
Community Marriage Policy . As a result, new CMP's have been
planted in Mena and Russellville, and the governor will attend the
signing of another in Hot Springs next month. Little Rock clergy are
also being organized as the result speeches by Gov. Huckabee, my wife
and I. A member of the Marriage Savers staff is doing the legwork to
At about the same time, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating asked his
state Chamber of Commerce for advice on what could be done to reduce
the Oklahoma's high rate of poverty. The Chamber's recommendation was
startling: reduce the state's high divorce rate, second highest in the
nation, second only to Nevada. Gov. Keating asked his Secretary of
Health, Jerry Regier, to help him develop a ``Marriage Initiative,''
and set a goal to slash the state's divorce rate by a third by the year
2010. Sec. Regier noted that the state had a $100 million surplus in
its TANF funding, and suggested that 10% of it, $10 million be set
aside to push down the divorce rate. No other state in America has made
such a major commitment of TANF funds.
Sec. Regier will testify about Oklahoma's innovative plans to the
committee. They involve creative programs in both the public and
private sector. For example, one plan is to train both welfare workers
and health care nurses, who know the women giving birth out of wedlock,
how to improve communication skills with the child's father. I am proud
to say that Sec. Regier says Oklahoma ``has modeled its Community
Marriage Covenant plan after the Community Marriage Policy concept of
Marriage Savers.'' More important, Oklahoma asked Marriage Savers to
submit a plan to help push down the divorce rate in 35 counties which
actually have MORE divorces than marriages. With state support, we will
create Community Marriage Covenants in those counties. We believe we
can have the same results we did in Modesto--cut the divorce rate,
increase the marriage rate and reduce out-of-wedlock births.
Recommendations to the Committee
In addition to Oklahoma, Arizona has set aside $1 million of TANF
funds to strengthen marriage and Iowa is considering a $500,000
program. No other state has earmarked ANY of the $7 billion of surplus
TANF funds for marriage. Therefore, we suggest a fresh approach:
1. Ask the Congress and the President to set concrete goals--a 50%
cut in the divorce rate by 2010, a 20% increase in the marriage rate,
and a 30% cut in illegitimacy.
2. Congress and the President should ask America's churches,
synagogues and mosques to make marriage a priority in every
congregation, adopting proven reforms.
3. The new Welfare Reform bill should set aside 5% to 10% of TANF
funding at the federal level for projects like Oklahoma's faith-based
There is a clear U.S. interest in demonstrating within every state
that the churches and synagogues of America can be mobilized to save
marriages. This is a nation of 300,000 houses of worship. If only a
third organized 10 Mentor Couples each, that would be 1 million Mentor
Couples who could clearly save half of the 1.2 million marriages now
ending in divorce. Each marriage is a small civilization that should be
helped to thrive--rather than to wither and die hurting untold
Mr. McManus. I think you were going to allow----
Chairman Herger. Yes, we will allow 2 minutes for Mr. Cofer
and Ms. Lucas, please.
Mr. Cofer. I want to briefly talk about the value of
mentoring. Before mentoring, I started off, I did not listen. I
was hardheaded. And so I believed that my relationship was a
good relationship. That is when I turned to my angel, and she
said, you know, we have some work to do, and I listened to her.
And I saw I was very hesitant about going into the Marriage
Savers program, but she implored me to, and I listened to her,
and I still listen to her today. During mentoring, we learned
how to communicate effectively, using ``I'' statements, as
opposed to ``you'' statements. For example, ``I understand you
to say,'' or ``What have I done?'' We also learned how to
resolve conflicts, for example, on issues such as whose church
we would attend.
We also learned how to write letters to each other to
communicate what was on our minds. After mentoring, we
discerned that there is not a ceiling to our growth, and that
we will always have room for growth, and that we will never
Ms. Lucas. I want to talk to you briefly about the value of
taking the premarital inventory. We learned from the premarital
inventory the strengths of our relationship, but most
importantly, the weaknesses. We had problems with communication
and problems with resolving conflict. Initially, we wanted to
just take the inventory on our own, without Mike and Harriet or
another mentor couple, but that would not have been beneficial
to us in the long run, because it would have just given us
scored, but by having the mentor couple, we were actually able
to go through every single question, especially those questions
where Philip and I had differences on, and talk about it deeply
to kind of pinpoint potential problems in our future marriage.
So that was very beneficial.
Also, through the mentoring, I learned that I was very
fearful of marriage. I was afraid of losing that independence,
but working with Mike and Harriet helped me to realize the
importance of the unity and the oneness in the marriage, and
our relationship has matured as a result.
Mr. McManus. Mr. Chairman, if I could say one final thing
with regard to the legislation that you are considering?
Chairman Herger. Briefly, yes.
Mr. McManus. I think it is important to note that 48 States
have not spent any of their TANF money for marriage work. These
States here have done it, and they are doing an admirable job.
We hope to work with Oklahoma, for example, going into the
counties which have the highest divorce rates and help bring
down those divorce rates in that county. But since the other 48
States have not done anything, I would like to suggest that you
consider the possibility of setting aside 5 percent of the
funding of TANF surplus that might be spent by the Department
of Health and Human Services on demonstration projects that
could show in every State how to bring down the divorce rate.
Chairman Herger. I thank you, and I thank each of our
witnesses. Now we will turn to questioning. Mrs. Johnson, the
gentlelady from Connecticut?
Mrs. Johnson. First of all, I would really like to thank
you all for your testimony. It is so truly bizarre how we value
education and then we disregard education, in terms of human
development. It struck me years ago in a religious education
course I took in my church, how much we knew through Piaget
about the stages of child development and how they think and
how they learned to think, and then we sort of throw that all
aside when we get to the very difficult issues of adolescence,
and of early independence, and of marriage.
At my age, I have lived through a generation of friends,
and am interested to note that very few of our friends got
divorced, but those who did, so many of them, as you watch, you
know it was unnecessary. For us who went through women's lib as
married women, I understand what happened, and it certainly
affected my marriage. But I think one of the things that we
fail to take into account is that we do not like ourselves all
You go through periods when you are pretty discouraged
about your own self. It is so easy to blame that on the other
person, but why would we think we would always like our spouse
over 50 years?
Mrs. Johnson. Just some plain ordinary common sense. It is
so refreshing to remember that if we simply provide a knowledge
base, we can help young people understand what is the
difference between cohabiting and marriage. What is the
difference to the relationship? What is the difference to the
children? What is the difference to the commitment, and what is
the difference when you go through hard times, because you are
going to go through hard times? I do not care how perfect you
So it really is impressive that you have developed
curriculums. I am interested in looking more closely at those
curriculums. Ben and I, when we did the fatherhood bill, worked
really hard at this particular issue, but frankly I was not
aware that there were sort of curriculums that we could point
to. But when you look at what is happening in welfare reform,
the big thing that happens is that young women get to know
themselves and learn about themselves and learn about their own
abilities and how to communicate in the work place, but we do
not teach them or we do not teach the father of their
children--we do not even give them the same job support.
I mean, that was one of the things we were trying to do in
our fatherhood bill. But we do not even talk to these young
kids about the nature of the intimacy that created the child
between them or what it takes to parent, and how can they make
a rational decision? How can they determine? This is not about
forcing people to marriage. This is giving people the knowledge
they need to determine whether or not they can develop a
relationship to the next stage.
So it really is important that the next stage of welfare
reform not be quite as blind to this issue of the knowledge
people need to make parenting a success, and the only stable
relationship a child flourishes under are success. While I have
good friends who have divorced and have done a wonderful job of
creating a larger family of the two families, we all know
economically it is hard and emotionally it is hard. So I really
look forward to working with the chairman and the ranking
member of this Committee. It is blessed to have really
exceptionally good leadership on this issue, and how do we work
it into the national program. But thank you for your testimony.
I am sorry I did not have a question, but I just love what you
said, and I just believe it from a lifetime of experience.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mrs. Johnson.
Mr. Cardin. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me first say
that I very much appreciate the testimony of all the witnesses,
and I appreciate particularly the last two witnesses being here
to tell us firsthand some of the emotion that they went through
in participating in the counseling. I guess our challenge is
how do we take these types of programs and apply them to a
social program such as TANF, which is going to be a more
difficult chore? I noticed that the statistics that you gave
us, the McManuses gave us, about 358 or 308, I guess it was,
and 50 walked away from the marriage.
Mrs. McManus. From their engagement.
Mr. Cardin. From their engagement. Excuse me, from getting
Mrs. McManus. From getting married.
Mr. Cardin. And I would expect that if those 50 would have
married, the divorce rate would have been higher.
Mr. McManus. Of course.
Mr. Cardin. I think that is one of our challenges. We do
not want to force people into marriage only to have a bad
situation, and I think it just underscores the point that we
have to be very cautious as to how government encourages
marriage. We should be encouraging counseling. We should be
encouraging the types of programs where we can have successful
marriages, but to have, particularly disincentives in the law,
is one of the areas I think we can agree upon to move.
Let me just ask my two State officials, the agreement we
reached in 1996 was to basically give the States maximum
flexibility. We made it clear that we wanted to promote
marriage. It is in the TANF law. The States have the
flexibility to use TANF money as they see fit. We could earmark
a certain amount of money for marriage counseling or for
marriage programs, but I think that violates the basic concept
of our arrangement with the States. Mr. McManus raises a good
point. We have used demonstration programs before to try to
encourage programs, and the bill Mrs. Johnson referred to
provides some new money for demonstration programs to promote
marriage, and would have been available for the States on a
So I take it that your testimony today is not to suggest
that we should be earmarking Federal funds, but that States
should be bolder in participating in these types of programs?
Mr. Regier. The flexibility that we have as States is very
important with this money, and much of that has been used for
increasing child care, transportation, other issues related to
the TANF population. The marriage money that we have set aside
is really critically important to us, to be able to have the
flexibility to do that, but also to have the opportunity to
test things out. In other words, even in the States, we set
aside $10 million. We have probably only spent less than half-
a-million so far, and we are going at it methodically. We are
going at it systematically.
The training program I talked about, the service delivery
program, we are going to do some pilot counties, and we will do
those pilot counties, and then if we roll it out to the whole
State, in terms of delivering this marriage education and
skills-building kinds of things throughout the State, we
probably will spend maybe $1.5 million, is what we project.
Mr. Cardin. All these efforts, as I understand it, are
aimed at preserving marriage. Are there any aimed at trying to
Mr. Regier. One comment, and then I will turn it over to
Mark, and that is we have in Oklahoma a program called Children
First, and we have operated this program now for 3 years out of
the State Department of Health. Public health nurses visit
first-time mothers, and 75 percent of those first-time mothers
are single, and we are incorporating some of this training for
the public health nurses so that they can also be talking to
those expectant mothers, and many times their partner is around
and there, but they really have never thought through the
institution of marriage. So we are doing some encouraging in
Mr. Anderson. When we first drafted the legislation, there
was money in there for a media campaign, to sort of promote
marriage and to educate people as to the benefits of marriage,
and I think that is very important, because I have talked with
people, welfare recipients, who have told me: Why would I
consider marriage? If you knew what happened to my parents, and
nobody in my neighborhood is married, and I have never seen a
good marriage on television; what you are talking about?
They have a complete blank look when you talk to them about
the benefits of marriage. So I think that is an important
component, that we do advocate as a health policy the benefits,
and all the studies that have come out now, that indicate that
people who are married long-term do so much better in so many
categories. That has got to be part of the discussion.
Mr. Cardin. We really do not have any good track record on
these type of efforts.
Mr. Anderson. If you are talking about marriage skills
Mr. Cardin. No, on what impact does that type of
advertising have on prospective parents marrying.
Mr. Anderson. I think you are right about that, because
this is a new field. I think that is why States are hesitant to
just jump into it, even though the language was there, the TANF
Mr. Cardin. Nor do we have any record on whether these
marriages are successful and what impact it has on the family.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. I thank you, Mr. Cardin. Now, Mr. Watkins,
from Oklahoma, to inquire?
Mr. Watkins. Mr. and Mrs. McManus, I am really impressed,
and also the fact that you plan on coming to Oklahoma and work
maybe with Jerry there, and in some of our counties. Jerry, I
would like to say, as a Member of the Committee, I would like
to encourage you to look at the third district, and I will be
very cooperative in trying to help make sure we get the right
folks there, and we will be a part of trying to do that.
I looked real quickly, because I was very impressed with
some of the things you talked about, Mark, also, with Arizona,
and the things you have got going in that State, and J.D.
Hayworth is a great guy and a great member of our team. But I
thought you might have some more core information about how you
carry out your program through the Marriage Savers group and
all, but I did not see anything. I would like to hope maybe
that some of that will be part----
Mr. McManus. The core idea of it, as Harriet said, is to
train good couples who have got good marriages to come
alongside other couples and be helpful. For example, every
congregation--first of all, 75 percent of people who get
married, get married in a church or a synagogue. So we are
talking about a huge access, and Gallup says that 40 percent of
all Americans actually attend church on a given Sunday, and
two-thirds are Members of a church or synagogue. Those are
boxcar kind of numbers, and so if you are interested in trying
to do something about marriage, you need to think about how do
you do this through the religious institutions.
What we have been able to do is get these agreements in
which pastors are agreeing to do something that they have never
done before, to take couples in good marriages and train them
to come alongside of other couples. For example, every church
has got couples who have been through adultery, and they
survived it. They also have couples who are thinking about
getting divorced because she found out he was cheating on her.
If you could get Couple A to sit down with Couple B, Couple A
could say: Look, we know adultery breaks trust. We have been
there and done that, but we are here to tell you trust can be
restored in the same marriage. We have done it. Let us talk to
you about that.
And this is like Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a peer-based
counseling. It is not professional counseling, but it is much
more effective than professional counseling. Professional
counselors only save 20 percent of marriages. We can save 80
Mr. Watkins. That is beautiful, and I would appreciate any
additional information. Mr. Cofer, is that right?
Mr. Cofer. Yes.
Mr. Watkins. I think the key is what your opening remark
was, Mr. Cofer. You say you were listening to her, and that is
one of the keys to make it work, is listening. God gave us two
ears and only one mouth, and you are supposed to listen twice
as much as you say. You are nodding, Ms. Lucas, but you cannot
take words back; and I think one of the most cutting swords out
there is a word, and sometime we would like to reach back and
But let me say I was raised in Oklahoma, like I told you,
but I have been married for 37 years and my wife and I have
three children, one of them is adopted. And I have 40 acres,
and I have all my grandchildren--I gave each one of them land,
so their spouses and all the grandchildren are there. I built a
home with three-foot doors and a 14-foot table, so I have all
my children and grandchildren, everyone in that one acreage and
on that area there.
People ask me how did I make it work, and I tell them one
thing: I keep my mouth shut. And that is the way it works, and
there is a lot to that in marriage, as well as you learn the
strengths and weaknesses and you learn the negatives and the
positives, and you try to work with those, and if you can do
that, you can make it last. So I am impressed. This is really,
to me, an inspirational type of testimony from all the
panelists, and I appreciate what you have done, and I look
forward to seeing you in Oklahoma. Jerry, bring them down and
let's set up a meeting or two in my district.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, the gentleman from
Oklahoma. I also want to commend you, Mr. Cofer. You have
learned before getting married what many of us took 15, 20
years to learn after we got married. So, congratulations. With
that, I would yield time to the gentleman from California, Mr.
Stark, for inquiry.
Mr. Stark. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am fascinated by this
hearing. Mr. Anderson, in your testimony, you referred to
skills to remain abstinent. Can you give me some idea what
those skills would be? Sort of like hopping on one foot 15
Mr. Anderson. That would be a start. I think in most of the
courses that we offer in Arizona, we have 15 contractors doing
the abstinence programs. A lot of them deal with refusal
skills. Oftentimes young people find themselves in situations
where it is very difficult to say no, and they regret being in
that situation in the first-place. So, a lot of times, they can
avoid those kind of situations. They can learn how to say no
when they do not feel it is appropriate, and those kinds of
things. I think that is the key, to me, besides just saying no.
Just saying no does not work.
Mr. Stark. I would refer you, and, of course, Governor
Thompson was not there then, to Wowatosa, Wisconsin, where I
spent my adolescent years. I can probably refer you to 15 or 20
young ladies who had no trouble saying no whatsoever.
Mr. Stark. And, to my knowledge, they never took a course.
You guys are wasting government money and time. Just go to the
source. It sounds silly, but it gets sillier, I guess. One of
the issues that they have discovered in Minnesota, and nobody
has referred to this, is that perhaps providing money, helps
too. The Minnesota Family Investment Program, has allowed
welfare beneficiaries to keep more of their earnings and they
found that it has not only led to increased employment, but to
an increased marriage rate.
I have heard none of you testify to the issues that, in
many cases, poverty can be a troublesome problem in a marriage.
I am surprised that that did not come to the surface. We might
offer an amendment to Chairman Herger's bill, for instance, to
give a tax credit to somebody who would marry a welfare
recipient. That could solve several problems. I am further
troubled that much of this seems religious-based. Everybody
talks about doing this in a church. For those of us who do not
attend church, and I am not sure what you might suggest; that
that is suffrage, that we go through.
But Unitarians can meet wherever they choose. They do not
need a church to carry on their activities. But I have noticed,
for example, and I hope that you would all agree, that we found
there have been tremendously good results in many States where
couples of the same sex have adopted children, to the benefit
of these children. I would hope that you would all include in
your counseling those people of the same sex who chose to
marry. That would be part of your program; would it not?
Mr. Anderson. Yes. Communication skills is what we are
talking about. Those can be applied in any relationship. In
fact, they transcend into----
Mr. Stark. So you would not exclude same-sex couples from
Mr. Anderson. No.
Mr. Stark. That is excellent. I think you are in the right
forum then. I think you suggested that the good Governor of
Arizona showed exemplary leadership in this arena. Within our
current House leadership, you have got the Republican
Conference Chairman with children born out-of-wedlock, and the
previous two Republican Speakers (one was a speaker-designee)
both had extramarital affairs while they were in office. So you
have got the leadership from the right group to lead you. I
think this is great. So, welcome, and we will take your advice
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Thank you. Mr. Camp, to inquire?
Mr. Camp. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to commend
all of you for being here and the work you are doing. I think
it is a real positive. I guess I had a question for the
McManuses, and I have the pleasure of working with your son on
the Health Subcommittee, as well as some other people here. How
would you target these programs, particularly to low-income
Mr. McManus. Well, churches can be found in all economic
strata; and, for example, one of our model Marriage Saver
congregations is the Bread of Life Church in Kansas City,
Kansas, where they have trained eight mentor couples and they
have had no divorces since they trained these mentor couples.
But they are also taking an aggressive stance on the issue of
There were seven couples in this congregation who were
living together, and Pastor Leroy Sullivan preached on this,
and said: You know it is not right. You ought to either get
married or split. And five of the couples did marry, but there
were two where the fellow refused to move out, and the woman
said she wanted him to move out, but he said he did not want to
So Pastor Sullivan showed up one Friday night at this
couple's home, knocked on the door, and he said: Oh, Pastor,
what are you doing here? He said: Well, I'm going to be here
until you move out. She wants you out, and where is your
remote? He sat down in the guy's chair and he said: You are
going to do what? He said: I'm going to sit here until you move
out. And the young man said: Well, how long are you going to be
here, Pastor? He said: Well, I am here on a four-hour shift,
and my elders are coming in 4-hour shifts after that, and we
are going to stay here until you move out. And he did.
That is taking an issue and really showing real gutsy
leadership. That is the kind of thing that needs to be done.
Mr. Camp. Is your experience ever not through a church? Are
there any other agencies? I realize primarily it is through
Mr. McManus. Synagogues, too.
Mr. Camp. And synagogues and religious institutions, but
are you working with any nonreligious institutions?
Mr. McManus. No, but I wanted to make one answer to Mr.
Stark's question. The work that Oklahoma is doing is going to
work through many public agencies, as well as through the
churches. So when they train in this prep program, which really
does teach communication and conflict-resolution skills, and
training the welfare workers and the health care workers and
the agricultural extension agents, they reach all of these
people through public means and it is a parallel track to the
religious track. So I admire what they are doing in Oklahoma.
Mr. Stark. Is that the same----
Mr. Camp. I would be happy to yield.
Mr. Stark. If you would yield for just a second. I do
encourage or think about conflict resolution for young children
in school now, to stop some of the violence. Is this all
combined, or is this in compartments? I mean, can you combine
all this in the other training that we are trying to provide
for youth in high school? For instance, conflict resolution to
reduce the amount of violence, as well as perhaps helping them
in interpersonal relationships?
Mr. McManus. There are many programs designed for the high
school student to do this, and what the high school students
are surprised at is that this works with their parents, it
works with their employers, as well as with their girlfriends.
Mr. Camp. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Anderson. OK. Thank you. We still have about 10
minutes. We do have two votes coming up on the floor, but maybe
we can go to one more question. Mr. Levin, would you like to
inquire prior to leaving for the vote?
Mr. Levin. Let me just ask you about the use of State
funds. Right now, for example, both Arizona and Oklahoma have
considerable unspent funds of TANF. Do you really want the
Federal Government to earmark how you spend these unspent funds
beyond our present laws? Is that what you are coming here and
asking us to do?
Mr. Regier. I was just coming to tell you what we were
Mr. Regier. But I think the fact that the welfare law has
been on the books for 5 years, and very few States have done
anything in the area of promoting marriage or even
significantly reducing out-of-wedlock births, may mean that
something does need to be put in as a mandate. What we are
doing, we took the leadership to do this without the mandate.
Mr. Levin. By the way, I think you are mixing marriage and
children out-of-wedlock. I mean, there are programs relating to
children out-of-wedlock. We are not talking about necessarily
the same programs or the same dynamics. So you are saying the
position of your State is that the government should earmark,
the Federal Government, a portion of your unspent funds, and we
should earmark it for what purpose?
Mr. Regier. My point was that if the Federal Government
earmarks a portion of it, it would just run parallel to what we
have already earmarked as a State. So, for us, whether you
earmark it or not really is immaterial.
Mr. Levin. Should we earmark how the money is spent for
Mr. Regier. Excuse me?
Mr. Levin. Do we earmark how the money is spent?
Mr. Regier. No. Right now, you do not.
Mr. Levin. No. Should we, and should we hold the States
accountable for how they spend the money?
Mr. Regier. I think the reason that I would say that
perhaps something should be earmarked related to marriage is
because very few States have spent any money in promoting
Mr. Levin. Why do you think that is?
Mr. Regier. Well, I think it is because they do not know
how to do it, which is what we are trying to explore, how one
can do that.
Mr. Levin. So we are going to earmark money for States to
do something they do not know how to do? I am serious, because
the earmarking issue is a serious issue, and I think there is a
need for Federal leadership. I would be inconsistent if I said
we never should do that, but I do think it is a serious
question. So let me shift to the State next to you. I mean, you
have considerable unspent moneys; right? As I look through the
chart, we are talking about, in both of your cases, a
substantial amount, over 10 percent of the cumulative grants
are unspent funds, as of--we do not have the latest figure. It
was last year.
Do you want us to earmark--I mean, to mandate?
Mr. Anderson. Well, Mr. Levin, I would support Congress
setting aside a policy that says 10 percent or whatever the
number might be of this TANF block grant should go for these
kind of programs. Now, how you States decide which programs or
how you achieve that, leave that up to the States. I think that
is where you are going to find the 50 different laboratories of
democracy. You are going to see some States succeed and others
not, but then you will learn from that.
Mr. Levin. We have those laboratories now. They can use the
moneys for these programs, and there are maybe some
constitutional limits, but other than that, the States can do
that. And how far do we go in telling them the content of their
Mr. Anderson. Well, Mr. Levin, I think, to me, setting the
goal is a very worthwhile effort on the part of Congress. It is
providing leadership to the States, and some States are ahead
of others, but I think you are going to set some things in
motion that are going to be able to bring forth some good
policies. I think in a lot of States, this policy is controlled
oftentimes by the Department of Economic Security in each
State, and oftentimes they do not have the vision that I think
Congress has the ability to have.
Mr. McManus. It seems to me that one of the things that Mr.
Anderson has said ought to be considered at the Federal level,
and that is to set a goal. President Kennedy, early in his
administration, set a goal of landing a man on the moon. That
seemed like an impossible dream at the time that he did it, and
it took 400,000 people and the substantial funding of NASA to
accomplish it, but it was achieved by 1969. If this Congress
and this President were to set a goal of cutting the divorce
rate by one-third by the year 2010, and provided and earmarked
5 percent of the money for demonstration projects funded
through the Federal Health and Human Service Department----
Mr. Levin. This is cutting the divorce rate?
Mr. McManus. Yes, but what I am saying is if you set the
goal and provide some money, then it seems to me you might
really achieve it; and we have 300,000 congregations in this
country, that if we only got one-third of them to organize 10
mentor couples apiece, we would have one million mentoring
couples, and one million mentoring couples could surely save
half the marriages that are ending in divorce.
Chairman Herger. The time has expired. I thank the
gentlemen from Michigan for his inquiry. We do have 3 minutes
left. I would just like to make the comment that when we first
started 5 years ago on welfare reform, we did not know how to
put people to work at that time. We had no idea whether welfare
reform would work, and that is the purpose of this hearing, to
see what is going that might work. I think when we look at the
documented negative results that are overwhelming in many, many
different areas of the results of children who grow up in
families where they do not have two parents or the parents are
not married, I certainly believe what we are working on is a
very worthy goal.
Also, just another response. The purpose of this hearing is
not to throw stones at anyone or any group. The purpose of this
hearing is to try to determine what we can do to help children
to grow up in families and in homes where they have the
greatest opportunity to be successful, and also for these
families to be successful. So, with that, we will recess,
returning immediately after the last vote. We have two votes
up. Thank you.
[Questions submitted from Chairman Herger to the panel, and
their responses follow:]
Arizona House of Representatives
Phoenix, Arizona 85007-2848
Dear Congressman Herger:
Thank you for inviting me to testify to your Committee regarding
the use of TANF funds and marriage policy. I am replying to the set of
questions that you sent on May 23rd.
(1) What obstacles did you have in passing legislation to promote
marriage? Are there ongoing battles you have to fight to keep these
programs on track?
The main obstacles in originally passing the marriage skills
legislation had to do with myths and misconceptions that legislators
had regarding the marriage issue. Several lawmakers were afraid that we
were trying to mandate for welfare moms. Others were afraid that we
were saying that just getting a piece of paper that says a person is
married would solve all their problems. Once we were able to explain
that marriage skills can be taught in a classroom environment and that
there is scientific research to indicate that it can be effective at
reducing divorce, then we were able to generate enough support for the
As for ongoing battles, the main battle has been with the Governor.
She was never really convinced that this is a good use of TANF money.
She reluctantly signed the legislation, and in the 2001 session she
vetoed the ongoing funding for the program. Therefore, instead of $1
million every year, we only have the 1 year of funding which we will
have to stretch over 2 years until we will have a new Governor in 2002.
The actual funding will be allocated in June after the Commission has
one more meeting.
(2) You stated in your testimony, that in Arizona ``as a first
step, marriage skills courses are going to be offered to young couples
preparing for marriage.'' Starting when? For whom--all young couples
applying for a marriage license? How long would these courses take?
Where are they taught?
The marriage skills courses will be offered to anyone who is
interested in taking the courses. We assume that this will primarily be
young couples contemplating marriage or recently married, or couples
struggling with their relationship. The courses will be up and running
by July 1st. All couples applying for a marriage license
will be given the ``healthy marriage'' handbook which will include
contact information for the contractors providing marriage skills
courses. These contractors are also charged with marketing the courses
in the community through advertising in newspapers, newsletters, flyers
and brochures distributed to bridal fairs, welfare offices, churches,
and any other method possible to inform likely participants. The
courses will run from 4 hours in length up to 16 hours and will be
taught in offices, classrooms, and other public locations.
(3) What happens if a couple does not want to take this course? How
will people find out about the courses and services your program will
offer? Will it be income-based or can anyone enroll?
The courses are not mandatory. Participants will find out about the
courses through advertising, referrals, and word-of-mouth. Anyone can
enroll, but the targeted group is low-income individuals. There is
$75,000 available in the form of vouchers for those couples who are
under 150% of the federal poverty level and who request help to pay
their share of the course's cost.
(4) How many couples can be served through your State's $1 million
The number of couples that we can serve depends on the average cost
of the course per hour times the average number of hours per course
minus the payment by the couple as their share. (The following are
estimates: average cost per hour = $20. The average number of hours per
course = 6. The average couple's share of cost is 20% or around $24.)
Using these estimated numbers and rounding off the $96 dollar figure to
$100, we come up with 10,000 couples who can be served with the $1
I hope these answers are helpful. Please feel free to contact me if
more information is desired. By July 1st, we will know more as the
courses will be starting out in the community. I will keep you posted
as any additional information becomes available. Keep up the good work.
Representative Mark Anderson
Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73117
June 5, 2001
Chairman Wally Herger
Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Human Resources
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Herger:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide additional information
about Oklahoma's diligent work to strengthen marriages and families. We
are confident that the sound prevention strategy we have developed with
TANF funds will result in the implementation of programs and services
that will positively impact family relationships across our state.
In response to your proposed questions, I have called on our
state's Marriage Initiative management consultant, Dr. Scott Stanley
and Mr. Raymond Haddock to assist in preparing a reply. All have played
an integral role in the development of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
and continue to be vital to future ideas and endeavors. Marriage
Initiative team members include: Mary Myrick, APR, Project Manager; Don
Hebbard, EdD, Director of Marriage Education; and Jo Anne Eason,
Derinda Lowe and Kendy Cruson are individuals who have made important
contributions to this work. Dr. Scott Stanley is a Senior Consultant to
the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and Co-director of the Center for
Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. Dr. Stanley has
been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the
Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) for over 20
years. Raymond Haddock is Division Administrator for the Oklahoma State
Department of Human Services, directing our state's TANF programs. We
continue to work very closely with DHS to develop programs and services
for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.
In reference to your first question regarding expected results and
results to date, I am confident of positive and substantial results. In
the first couple of years of enacting the initiative, a number of
specific short-term results are expected:
(1) The construction of a survey instrument that can be employed at
intervals to track changes in demographic trends and attitudes about
marriage and family within the state of Oklahoma. This instrument will
be developed through consultation of a team of marriage scholars,
including a number of national and Oklahoma experts. In addition to
fulfilling the intended purpose of tracking macro level changes in
Oklahoma as a result of the Initiative, this instrument may become a
model instrument that can be adapted and used in the efforts of other
states to change the direction of various negative marriage and family
trends. Oklahoma State University's Bureau for Social Research will
manage this project and further research/evaluation components.
(2) The development of statewide systems in the promotion and
strengthening of healthy and stable marriage and family relationships.
Oklahoma seeks to be the first state in the U.S. to move from an
official stance of neutrality with regard to marriage and family
relationships to one of advocacy for a stronger marriage culture. While
the Initiative, in all aspects, intends to project a message of
acceptance toward various types of family arrangements, it will break
new ground for government involvement in cultural trends that have
significant impact on government expenditures and services.
Specifically, government personnel in various capacities across the
state will be equipped and empowered to strengthen viable marital,
premarital, or co-parenting relationships (parents who may not desire
or be good candidates for marriage, but who nevertheless will have to
work together around the needs of their child) with goals of increased
stability and quality.
(3) A significant increase in the capacity of both the public and
private sector to provide various services to Oklahomans--services that
are targeted toward the reduction of risks and a strengthening of
protective factors in marital, family, and parental relationships. As
noted in the testimony provided earlier, the current trends in marriage
rate declines, divorce, family fragmentation, and out-of-wedlock births
become the business of the government due to a wide range of costs to
society. Historically, state and Federal governments have played very
little role in strengthening protective marriage and family patterns,
despite large social costs. In Oklahoma, we expect to demonstrate a
rapid and widespread increase in the capacity of the public sector
(e.g., Health Department personnel, DHS, Extension Service) and private
sectors (e.g., religious organizations, non-religious social agencies)
to provide relationship education services. For example, in the coming
months, the pilot phase of our Training and Service Delivery System for
Couples and Marriage Education will result in the training of
government workers and private providers once we utilize this pilot
phase to perfect the process of training and service delivery. We will
see the additional training of hundreds of other supervisors and
service providers as the program transitions to a statewide effort. Not
only will these efforts result in increased capacity for relationship
strengthening education throughout Oklahoma, such efforts will change
the stance of government agencies from a ``hands off'' stance with
regard to marriage and family relationships to one of increased
understanding and advocacy for transformation of a culture of family
fragmentation to one of family stability and well-being.
(4) The integration of two nationally recognized services in the
efforts of the Oklahoma Department of Health to strengthen viable
relationships of disadvantaged, non-married mothers who are clients of
the department of health. One of the most successful programs
implemented by state governments around the U.S. to lower health risks
as well as recidivism of out-of-wedlock births with young mothers is
the Childrens' First program. Childrens' First is a protocol
implemented by public health nurses, and it based on numerous Federally
funded studies demonstrating significant promise in achieving these
aims. Public health nurses within the department of health have
repeatedly asked for training to augment their work with these young
mothers for the lowering of risks present in their relationships with
boyfriends, spouses, and/or fathers of their babies. The developers of
Childrens' First (Dr. David Olds & xxxx) have been working for over a
year with the developers of PREP (Drs. Stanley and Markman, et al.) to
integrate adult relationship building strategies into the already
highly successful protocol of Childrens' First. This integration and
implementation will be one tangible result of the initiative, with the
short-term result of increased capacity of public health nurses to
strengthen (where appropriate) the relationships in these ``fragile
PREP is an evidence-based program for couples that has been
evaluated in numerous long-term studies, with a variety of couples,
across a number of continents (see attached executive summary on PREP).
Very encouraging results have been found in tests of effects in a
number of outcome studies, including ongoing research at the University
of Denver, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The
program is largely based on strategies based on findings from empirical
research rather than pop psychology or speculation.
(5) Continued cultural changes as state leaders in multiple sectors
continue to educate the public about the real consequences of divorce,
the value of strong marriages, particularly to children, and the
reality that meaningful and relevant skills can be learned and used to
strengthen committed relationships. The Governor, and others, have
already made a significant impact through their leadership in these
areas. Marriage and divorce are now regular parts of the Oklahoma
conversation, with our citizens demonstrating Oklahoma determination in
their desire to reverse the state's divorce numbers.
Over 600 religious leaders, and the heads of almost every faith and
denomination have signed the ``Oklahoma Marriage Covenant,'' to slow
the marriage entry period and to better utilize engagements for
marriage preparation at the community level. We fully expect these
``signings'' to continue and the number of religious leaders making
this commitment to grow. According to the Glenmary Research Center,
66.8% of Oklahomans claim affiliation with a church, and therefore this
partnership with the faith community is vital. Because of leadership of
pastors, rabbis, ministers and priests, we expect an increase in the
number of couples obtaining premarital education services, as well as a
decrease in the number of divorces.
The education sector has also begun looking at ways to include
marriage and relationship education as part of its mission. We expect
to see relationship courses on college campuses, and eventually in high
schools. With many Oklahomans marrying at a young age, we have placed a
high priority on reaching these two populations as part of our
prevention strategy. We expect to, over time, delay the age of first
marriages, and to better prepare young couples for marriage.
We also expect to have ever-growing involvement by our state's
media venues, as the facts about marriage and divorce are compelling.
Providing good information so citizens can make better choices is a
matter of both public health and welfare prevention. One of every three
couples getting a divorce will result in the need for some kind of
temporary assistance and that fact will keep this issue on the public
When divorce does occur, there are services that have proven to
reduce the negative impacts on families, particularly mediation. Our
State Courts have implemented a strong divorce mediation program which
reduces both couple conflict and return court appearances.
Long-term effects might be:
(1) While we cannot accurately predict the degree of success we
will have in achieving the stated goals of the marriage initiative, we
expect to document reductions in the number and rate of divorces, an
increase in the marriage rate among people in their twenties and
thirties, and a reduction in the recidivism of out-of-wedlock births by
teenage girls. With regard to divorce and marriage rates, what we are
essentially expecting is that trend on those indices will reflect our
broad based, multi-method efforts to strengthen a marriage culture in
the state of Oklahoma. Our 10-year goal is to accomplish a \1/3\
reduction in the number of divorces in Oklahoma.
(2) As a specific result of the implementation of prevention,
premarital and early marital education services statewide, we expect to
see a decline in the divorce rate of couples within the first 5 years
of marriage. Various studies document that this is a very high risk
time period for marriages, and much of our increased relationship
education capacity will be directed at the needs of such young couples.
In two long-term studies, adaptations of PREP have been associated with
significant reductions in the likelihood of divorce and break up within
the 5 years following training. Certainly studies vary in results, and
not all couples can be expected to benefit from preventive efforts, the
high likelihood of marital declines in the first 5 years of marriage
means that young married couples are prime targets for demonstrating
benefits of preventive relationship education.
(3) Increased involvement of fathers of children born out-of-
wedlock with those children. The Children's First program already has a
proven track record for increasing father involvement for many of these
children. We expect to document an intensification of this effect
through the confluence of the Childrens' First protocol and strategies
for relationship building from PREP. Those strategies will be targeted
toward helping the mothers and fathers of these children handle aspects
of their relationship more constructively regardless of the likelihood
of marriage for those couples. However, as a result of efforts to build
the relationships that are viable, we would also expect an increase in
the number of these couples who eventually marry. We expect this
combination of strategies from Childrens' First and PREP to be among
the most effective strategies implemented as a result of the initiative
because both programs have shown significant promise in various
(4) Decreased risk for domestic violence in the relationships of
mothers in the Childrens' First program with their boyfriends,
husbands, or father of their child (sometimes this will be the same
man, and sometimes the father of their child may be a different person
from their boyfriend or husband.) While more research needs to be done
(and is being done), there is both theoretical reason and limited data
suggesting that interventions like PREP can reduce some kinds of
domestic violence in some kinds of couples. As part of the efforts
underway in the state of Oklahoma, pilot research is currently underway
exploring the ways in which the Childrens' First protocol and
strategies from PREP may be employed by public health nurses to build
more stability in the social networks of the young mothers and reduce
the likelihood of domestic violence with their male partners (or
fathers of their children if not now their partner).
In answering your second question regarding TANF benefits and
cohabitation, Mary Stalnaker of the Department of Human Services
attests that the agency currently has no data to determine any economic
effect or impact on couples who were cohabiting and later chose to
marry. Administrators have engaged in conversations with researchers
through the University of Oklahoma regarding conducting this type of
evaluation and hope to begin that process later this year. The original
intent of changing this policy was to remove a marriage penalty.
However, old policies were actually more friendly in the income
calculations for persons who chose cohabitation than they were for
persons who chose to marry.
I hope I have provided you with useful information to accompany my
Congressional testimony. Please contact me again if you have further
questions or request additional information. Again, thank you for this
opportunity and for expressing interest in the Oklahoma Marriage
Hon. Jerry Regier
Potomac, Maryland 20854
May 30, 2001
Rep. Wally Herger
Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Resources
B-317 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Via e-mail and U.S. Mail
Dear Chairman Herger:
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify on the
reauthorization of Welfare Reform. It was a thrill to Harriet and me
and to our young couple, to be able to share the experience of Marriage
You have asked two additional questions.
1. How could our approach benefit low income never-married couples
First, it should be noted that African Americans and Hispanics
attend church more regularly than whites, according to George Gallup.
And two-thirds of black churches are financially healthy. Why? Gallup
reports a very high percent of blacks tithe, 45%. The inner city is
full of churches, and average attendance is 278. However, these pastors
are quite skeptical of answers from the white community for their
people. So a special effort has to be made to reach minority clergy.
Nevertheless, it can be done. Writing in a recent newsletter of
Marriage Savers, Pastor LeRoy Sullivan of Bread of Life Church in
Kansas City, KS, told how he created a ``Marriage Savers Church'' that
has ``mandatory marriage preparation, using mentoring couples.'' He
trained six Mentor Couples who helped 10 couples prepare for marriage.
One broke an engagement, but none have divorced. He has also trained a
``back-from-the-brink'' couple in marriage saving. In fact, Bread of
Life has had no divorces in 4 years.
One of those couples prepared for marriage, Herman and Djana Lloyd,
say the process helped their communication: ``The mentoring we have
received allows us to handle arguments in a more effective manner,''
``When we have problems that were too hard to discuss, we've had a
Mentor Couple to call upon. Marriage Savers has made us a better couple
because our focus is now more on God than each other. That makes it
easier not to have disagreements. When we disagree, we now handle them
with love, patience, adjustment to God, prayer and a willingness to let
God lead us.''
Black Clergy Skepticism: One question Pastor Sullivan hears from
other black pastors who he is bringing into a Community Marriage
Policy: ``Is this a white man's thing?'' Pastor Sullivan
answers: ``I explain that marriage is not a color or an ethnic `thing.'
It is between a man and a woman, coming together in a covenant. The
same issues are there for all--no matter what culture or ethnic
background. Biblical principles know no color boundary. Marriage Savers
is not a color or cultural issue. It is returning to God's plan for
This is true. However, skepticism by black clergy is natural.
Extraordinary effort must be made to reach out to minority clergy
associations by those organizing what we call Community Marriage
Policies, which have brought divorce rates down in dozens of
Minority clergy: a key subgroup to be organized: In our advice on
how to organize a Community Marriage Policy, we outline the
need to reach out to four relatively separate clergy groups, each of
which tend to operate independent of the others:
Mainline Protestant pastors (United Methodist,
Evangelical Protestant pastors (Baptists, Assemblies of
Minority clergy, black or Hispanic pastors.
Black-white harmony: We have had as many as 40% of participating
clergy to be minority in a city such as Columbus, GA. In fact, in that
city, the black and white clergy had never cooperated on anything until
they organized a Community Marriage Policy in 1997. But the two clergy
groups grew to have so much respect for one another that the white
clergy association dissolved and all the white pastors joined the black
2. In my testimony, I indicated that therapists are able to save
only about 20% of the troubled marriages who come to them for help,
while Mentor Couples can save 80%, the mirror opposite. You asked
``What accounts for the difference''?
Therapists save only 20%. Diane Sollee, a marital therapist who was
Associate Director of the American Association of Marriage and Family
Therapy, and now directs the Coalition for Marriage and Family
Education, cites both personal experience and two studies which
indicate that therapists are able to save only about a fifth of the
marriages that come to them.
``The prevailing attitude of marriage therapy has been one of
sophistication, to say that marriage doesn't make any difference. They
are focused on increasing the happiness of the client,'' says Diane
Sollee. ``If they think the clients will be happier if they are
divorced, they will help them get divorced. They take a short term view
and are not looking at what it does to the long term lives of their
clients. However, when a marriage breaks up, they are not just
destroying a marriage. For the kids, they are destroying the family and
the grandchildren.'' In fact, Ms. Sollee reports that a major growth
area of the therapy business is ``divorce adjustment therapy.''
Diagnosis vs. Prescription. Another issue is that many therapists
are more trained in diagnosis than in prescription. They delve into the
history in great depth, which can take months or years (at $100 an
hour). The best therapists such as Michele Weiner-Davis, author of
Divorce Busting, take the opposite approach. She says that what matters
is not what happened yesterday or years ago, but what will the person
do tomorrow, when a predictable problem arises? She teaches people to
widen their repertoire. Instead of complaining about the other spouse,
she urges clients to praise whatever good things the spouse is doing.
Finally, there are relational skills which can be taught, but
therapists are generally not skilled in doing so. There are courses
such as PAIRS which teach these skills, and save four out of five
Selfishness vs. Selflessness: The basic reason that marriages fail
is selfishness on the part of one or both partners. He drinks to
excess. She is having an affair. He doesn't invest time in her as he
did before the wedding and she feels neglected. One or the other
becomes overly involved in work. The answer to selfishness is
selflessness. A spiritual transformation is required by at least one
Peer Counseling: the AA Model: The best way to inspire such change
is for couples to see how another couple who was having a similar
problem--overcame the problem and now has a happy marriage. This
approach is often called ``peer counseling,'' the best known model of
which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Some 1 million people attend an AA
meeting every week! Why? Someone will stand up and say, ``I'm Joe and I
am an alcoholic, but I have not had a drink in six years. He will then
tell his own 12 steps of recovery. This is not only inspirational to
those addicted to alcohol, but people will donate their time to mentor
the struggling individual. What is modeled is the very selflessness
which the dependent person needs to break free of his/her addiction.
Mentor Couples: Similarly, peer counseling or couple mentoring is
the best way to save troubled marriages. Every church has couples who
have survived adultery, for example. Three pews back Couple B is moving
toward divorce because she found out he has had an affair. It has never
occurred to most pastors to introduce Couple A to Couple B. Couple A's
story is a deep dark secret. But they would be willing to meet with
Couple B, if asked. Couple A could say, ``We know adultery breaks
trust. We have been there, done that. But we are here to say that trust
can be restored after adultery. We have done it. So can you. Let us
pray about this.'' That is the kind of conversation that is not
happening in 999 out of 1,000 churches.
Another reason why Mentor Couples are more successful than therapy
is research evidence. Diane Sollee asserts, ``The main body of research
led by Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Bernard Guerney, Dr. Howard Markman and
Dr. Scott Stanley indicates that when marriage is looked at over the
long haul, the whole therapy paradigm is wrong. Marriages don't break
up because one person is mentally ill or maladjusted. For the most
part, therapists are trained to diagnose such illness and then come up
with a treatment plan, reimbursed by insurance companies, on the theory
that once a therapist straightens out or cures that person's
maladjustment, the marriage will work.
``On the other hand, Mentor Couples know how to handle what
marriage is. They have managed to stay married many years and have
learned along the way, how to make it work, Ms. Sollee adds. Unlike
therapists who will take sides with one spouse, who is paying the bill,
Mentor Couples will note shortcomings on both sides, and the need for
each spouse to be more considerate, more loving.'' (If the Committee
would like to contact Ms. Sollee and bring in the experts she cites to
testify, call her at 202 362-3332.)
Retrouvaille (French for Rediscovery, pronounced Retro-vi) is the
most successful national marriage-saving strategy in America. It has
saved four out of five marriages headed for divorce in virtually every
state. In fact, more than 60,000 couples have attended a 2 day
Retrouvaille weekend retreat led by back-from-the-brink couples who
donate their time. Why? Out of gratitude that Retrouvaille helped them
save their marriage, they are reaching down to help others. They do not
charge for giving up a weekend of time. Some will tell their story of
how they overcame adultery or alcoholism or abuse. The attending
couples then are asked to write to each other for 10 minutes on an
issue such as ``What do I have difficulty talking to you about, and how
does that make me feel?'' Couples then go to their motel rooms, read
what each other has written and talk in private. Twenty minutes later,
a knock on the door summons each couple back to the presentation room
for another talk by the leaders, and the cycle repeats itself. You may
want to ask the International Coordinating Team of Retrouvaille to
testify in the future. I suggest you call Ted and Iris Bjorn, 205 330-
Marriage Ministry is a local congregational version of
Retrouvaille. Couples whose own marriages once nearly failed are
trained to tell their stories to couples in crisis on a couple-to-
couple basis. We at Marriage Savers have helped more than 25 churches
start such a ministry, which has virtually ended divorce in these
congregations. One church, First Assembly of Rockford, IL runs an item
in the church bulletin: ``Is your marriage in trouble? Are you tired of
pretending that everything is great? Would you like to have another
couple come alongside you for a season who has solved a similar problem
in their marriage? If so, call Pat. . . .'' This process worked so well
that the therapists started sending over their worst cases, more than
100 of them. The 14 trained Mentor Couples struggled with the enormous
load, but have lost only four marriages to divorce! For more
information call Larry Ballard, our Midwest Regional Director of
Marriage Savers at 715 834-5914.
Community Marriage Policies
Finally, I want to reiterate that we jump-start marriage-saving
reforms like those outlined above and others described in our
testimony--such as Premarital Counseling and Stepfamily Support
Groups--in many churches at one time in creating what we call a
Community Marriage Policy or a Community Marriage
Covenant. This weekend, for example, we will travel to
Portland, Oregon where more than half of the pastors from 20+
denominations in a suburban Clackamas County, to adopt a Clackamas
Community Marriage Covenant. We will remain to train more than 100
couples from 25+ churches in how to jump start these reforms in their
congregations. We will do a similar training in Nashville June 15-16.
We did this in Harrisonburg, VA 2 years ago and the divorce rate
dropped 15% in the first year! El Paso's divorce rate is down by a
third in three years, and Kansas City, KS and its suburbs, by 44% in
Thus, Marriage Savers is working at two levels simultaneously. We
have created 145 Community Marriage Covenants to plant these reforms in
scores of churches. But what matters is what happens in the individual
church. At that level, what we are doing is calling out and training
Mentor Couples to be able to launch proven reforms that reduce the
divorce rate of an individual congregation to near zero. I have written
a Manual to Create a Marriage Savers Congregation which spells out in
detail how to create a ``Marriage Savers Congregation'' which
eliminates virtually all divorces. We teach Mentor Couples and pastors
how to launch a new day for marriage and an old day for divorce. It all
comes down to one core idea: In every congregation, there are couples
in solid vibrant marriages who really could be of help to other
couples, but have never been asked, inspired or trained to do so.
Michael J. McManus
Chairman Herger. The hearing will reconvene. I thank our
group of second panelists for coming up and being seated.
First, I would like to introduce Mr. David Popenoe, Co-Director
of National Marriage Project, and Professor of Sociology at
Rutgers University; and then, Theodora Ooms, Senior Policy
Analyst and Director, Resource Center on Couples and Marriage
Policy, Center for Law and Social Policy; and Mr. Patrick
Fagan, and thank you; a William H. G. Fitzgerald Research
Fellow in Family and Cultural Issues, the Heritage Foundation;
and Ms. Kathryn Edin, Associate Professor of Sociology,
Northwestern University Institute of Policy and Research; and
Laurie Rubiner, Vice President for Program and Public Policy,
National Partnership for Women and Family; and Mr. Eugene
Steuerle, Senior Fellow, the Urban Institute.
STATEMENT OF DAVID POPENOE, CO-DIRECTOR, NATIONAL MARRIAGE
PROJECT, AND PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY,
PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY
Mr. Popenoe. It is a pleasure to be here. I was asked to
provide a brief overview of the state of marriage in America
today. As the recent results of the year 2000 census confirm,
marriage, as the basis of family life, continues to decline in
America. Since 1970, the rate of marriage has dropped by about
one-third, the out-of-wedlock birth-ratio has climbed from 11
percent to 33 percent of all births, the divorce rate has
doubled and the number of people living together outside of
marriage has grown by 1000 percent. With the exception of non-
marital cohabitation, which increased dramatically, the
marriage decline trends decelerated a little in the nineties,
but they have continued in the same direction. As of now, there
is no tangible evidence of a turnaround, although a more pro-
marriage attitude does seem to be gaining ground in the media,
and in the culture at large, and, hopefully, in this room.
Why should this marriage decline be of national concern?
Principally, because of its effects on our Nation's children.
The social science evidence is now overwhelming that children
fare better in life if they grow up in a married, two-parent
family. Children who grow up in other family forms are 2-3
times at greater risk of having serious behavioral and
emotional problems when they become adolescents and adults.
Many of today's youth problems can be attributed, directly or
indirectly, to the decline of marriage. This includes high
rates of juvenile delinquency, suicide, substance abuse, child
poverty, mental illness and emotional instability. One
important new study has found that the average American child
in recent decades reported more anxiety than child psychiatric
patients in the fifties. Indeed, as former Senator Moynihan
once observed, the United States may be the first society in
history in which children are distinctly worse off than adults.
Much of the linkage between the decline of marriage and the
rise of problems in childhood rests with the absent father. The
evidence is now strong that fathers do matter in the lives of
their children and, although there are many caring non-resident
fathers, the alarmingly simple fact is that men are much less
likely to stay close to their children when they are not
married to their children's mother. Men tend to view marriage
and child-rearing as a single package. If they are not married
or are divorced, their interest in and sense of responsibility
toward children greatly diminish. Many studies have found that
a high percentage of all unmarried or divorced fathers lose
regular contact with their children over time.
Why is marriage so important to fatherhood? Because being a
father is universally problematic for men in a way it is not
for women. Put simply, as marriage weakens, fathers stray.
While mothers the world over bear and nurture their young with
an intrinsic acknowledgment of their role, fathers are often
filled with conflict and doubt. Left culturally unregulated,
men's sexual behavior can be promiscuous, their paternity
casual, their commitment to families weak. Marriage is
society's way of engaging the basic problem of fatherhood--how
to hold the father to the stronger mother-child bond. As a
cultural institution, marriage stresses the long run commitment
of the male, the durability of the marital relationship, and
the importance of the union for children.
Our national goal should be no less than to rebuild a
marriage culture, one in which as many children as possible
grow up with their fathers and mothers providing care and
nurture and stability. We should be every bit as much concerned
with our Nation's family environment as we are with our
Nation's economic and natural environments. Yet, if ever there
was a serious domestic problem almost entirely ignored by our
National elected representatives, this is it. Despite the fact,
for example, that many Americans believe the current state of
marriage to be one of the major problems of our time, no high-
level government body in memory--until this group--has examined
the issue. Indeed, in recent years the government has even cut
back on the collection of marriage statistics.
Is the goal of renewing a marriage-based society impossible
to achieve? It certainly will not be easy. Much of the needed
change must come, of course, in the cultural, moral and
spiritual realms. But there are many things that can be done at
the Federal level to smooth the path. Perhaps the most
important is merely to recognize--as societies in the past have
nearly always done as a part of public policy--that the
benefits to children of having married parents are so great
that the institution of marriage should be encouraged by every
reasonable means possible. Fortunately, many ways exist to
strengthen and stabilize marriage (which you will be hearing
more about) to make marriage a more satisfying, as well as more
durable, social relationship. And, of course, government should
seek to do no harm in this realm. It should never institute
policies, for example, that provide disincentives to marriage
or that fail equally to support children not in a two-parent
More than 2000 years ago, the Roman Statesman Cicero noted
that ``marriage is the first bond of society.'' Surely, this
observation is no less true today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Popenoe follows:]
Statement of David Popenoe, Ph.D., Co-Director, National Marriage
Project, and Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University, Piscataway,
As the recent results of the Year 2000 Census confirm, marriage as
the basis of family life continues to decline in America. Since 1970
the rate of marriage has dropped by about one third, the out-of-wedlock
birth ratio has climbed from 11% to 33% of all births, the divorce rate
has doubled, and the number of people living together outside of
marriage has grown by over 1000%. With the exception of nonmarital
cohabitation, which increased dramatically, the marriage-decline trends
decelerated a little in the 1990s. But they have continued in the same
direction. As of now, there is no tangible evidence of a turnaround,
although a more pro-marriage attitude does seem to be gaining ground in
the media and the culture at large.
Why should this marriage decline be of national concern?
Principally, because of its effects on our nation's children. The
social science evidence is now overwhelming that children fare better
in life if they grow up in a married, two-parent family. Children who
grow up in other family forms are two to three times at greater risk of
having serious behavioral and emotional problems when they become
adolescents and adults. Many of today's youth problems can be
attributed, directly or indirectly, to the decline of marriage. This
includes high rates of juvenile delinquency, suicide, substance abuse,
child poverty, mental illness, and emotional instability. One important
new study has found that the average American child in recent decades
reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950s.
Indeed, as former Senator Moynihan once observed, the United States
``may be the first society in history in which children are distinctly
worse off than adults.''
Much of the linkage between the decline of marriage and the rise of
problems in childhood rests with the absent father. The evidence is now
strong that fathers do matter in the lives of their children. And,
although there are many caring and responsible non-resident fathers,
the alarmingly simple fact is that men are much less likely to stay
close to their children when they are not married to their children's
mother. Men tend to view marriage and childrearing as a single package.
If they are not married or are divorced, their interest in and sense of
responsibility toward children greatly diminish. Many studies have
found that a high percentage of all unmarried or divorced fathers lose
regular contact with their children over time.
Why is marriage so important to fatherhood? Because being a father
is universally problematic for men in a way it is not for women. Put
simply, as marriage weakens, fathers stray. While mothers the world
over bear and nurture their young with an intrinsic acknowledgement of
their role, fathers are often filled with conflict and doubt. Left
culturally unregulated, men's sexual behavior can be promiscuous, their
paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. Marriage is
society's way of engaging the basic problem of fatherhood--how to hold
the father to the stronger mother-child bond. As a cultural
institution, marriage stresses the long-run commitment of the male, the
durability of the marital relationship, and the importance of the union
Our national goal should be no less than to rebuild a marriage
culture, one in which as many children as possible grow up with their
fathers and mothers providing care and nurture and stability. We should
be every bit as much concerned with our nation's family environment as
we are with our nation's economic and natural environments. Yet if ever
there was a serious domestic problem almost entirely ignored by our
national elected representatives, this is it. Despite the fact, for
example, that many Americans believe the current state of marriage to
be one of the major problems of our time, no high-level government body
in memory has examined the issue. Indeed, in recent years the
government even has cut back on the collection of marriage statistics.
Is the goal of renewing a marriage-based society impossible to
achieve? It certainly will not be easy. Much of the needed change must
come, of course, in the cultural, moral and spiritual realms. But there
are many things that can be done at the federal level to smooth the
path. Perhaps the most important is merely to recognize--as societies
in the past have nearly always done as a part of public policy--that
the benefits to children of having married parents are so great that
the institution of marriage should be encouraged by every reasonable
means possible. Fortunately, many ways exist to strengthen and
stabilize marriage, to make marriage a more satisfying as well as more
durable social relationship. And, of course, government should seek to
do no harm in this realm. It should never institute policies, for
example, that provide disincentives to marriage, or that fail equally
to support children not in a two-parent family.
Some believe that pro-marriage policies cannot be put forth without
stigmatizing and penalizing those who for one reason or another,
sometimes through no fault of their own, are not married. Yet the fact
remains that the overwhelming majority of young people today wish to
marry for life, and the parents of these young people, no matter what
their marital state, also hold that goal for their offspring. There is
actually an enormous reservoir of support for a marriage-based culture.
In addition to the significant and enduring benefits for children, the
evidence is clear that having a solid, long-term marriage greatly
enhances the wealth, health, longevity, and overall happiness of
More than 2000 years ago the Roman statesman Cicero noted that
``marriage is the first bond of society.'' Surely this observation is
no less true today.
What's Happening To Marriage?*
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, National Marriage Project,
Americans haven't given up on marriage as a cherished ideal.
Indeed, most Americans continue to prize and value marriage as an
important life goal, and the vast majority of us will marry at least
once in a lifetime. By the mid-thirties, a majority of Americans have
married at least once.
*From: The State of Our Unions: 1999, The Social Health of Marriage
In America (Rutgers University, National Marriage Project, June, 1999).
Most couples enter marriage with a strong desire and determination
for a lifelong, loving partnership. Moreover, this desire may be
increasing among the young. Since the 1980s, the percentage of young
Americans who say that having a good marriage is extremely important to
them as a life goal has increased slightly.
But when men and women marry today, they are entering a union that
looks very different from the one that their parents or grandparents
As a couples relationship, marriages are more likely to be
broken by divorce than by death. And although one might expect that
greater freedom to leave an unhappy marriage might increase the chances
that intact marriages would be very happy, this does not seem to be the
case. Marriages are less happy today than in past decades.
As a rite of passage, marriage is losing much of its
social importance and ritual significance. It is no longer the standard
pathway from adolescence to adulthood for young adults today. It is far
less likely to be closely associated with the timing of first sexual
intercourse for young women and less likely to be the first living
together union for young couples than in the past.
As an adult stage in the life course, marriage is
shrinking. Americans are living longer, marrying later, exiting
marriage more quickly, and choosing to live together before marriage,
after marriage, in-between marriages, and as an alternative to
marriage. A small but growing percentage of American adults will never
marry. As a consequence, marriage is surrounded by longer periods of
partnered or unpartnered singlehood over the course of a lifetime.
As an institution, marriage has lost much of its legal,
religious and social meaning and authority. It has dwindled to a
``couples relationship,'' mainly designed for the sexual and emotional
gratification of each adult. Marriage is also quietly losing its place
in the language. With the growing plurality of intimate relationships,
people now tend to speak inclusively about ``relationships'' and
``intimate partners,'' burying marriage within this general category.
Moreover, some elites seem to believe that support for marriage is
synonymous with far-right political or religious views, discrimination
against single parents, and tolerance of domestic violence.
Among young women, social confidence in marriage is
wavering. Until very recently, young women were highly optimistic about
their chances for marital happiness and success. Now, according to
youth surveys, their confidence in their ability to achieve successful
marriage is declining. Moreover, they are notably more accepting of
alternatives to marriage, such as unwed parenthood and cohabitation.
At the national policy level, marriage has received
remarkably little bipartisan study or attention. During a four-decade
period of dramatic historic change in marriage, no national studies,
government commissions or task forces have been set up to examine the
status of marriage or to propose measures to strengthen it.1
Indeed the United States lags well behind England, Australia, and
Canada in the level and seriousness of governmental response to the
widespread evidence of the weakening of marriage.
\1\ For two ``think-tank'' reports that are notable exceptions to
the general neglect of marriage in the policy world, see: Theodora
Ooms, Toward More Perfect Unions: Putting Marriage on the Public Agenda
(Washington, DC: Family Impact Seminar, 1998); and Marriage in America:
A Report to the Nation (New York: Council on Families in America,
The Marriage Relationship
One reason Americans prize marriage so highly is that it is the
source of deeply desired benefits such as sexual faithfulness,
emotional support, mutual trust and lasting commitment. These benefits
cannot be found in the marketplace, the workplace or on the Internet.
Most people aspire to a happy and long-lasting marriage. And they
will enter marriage with the strong desire and determination for a
lifelong and loving partnership. While they are married, most couples
will also be sexually faithful to each other as long as the marriage
lasts. According to the most comprehensive study of American sexual
behavior, married people are nearly all alike in their sexual behavior:
``once married, the vast majority have no other sexual partner; their
past is essentially erased.'' 2
\2\ Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina
Kolata, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston, MA: Little Brown
and Company, 1994), 105.
However, although Americans haven't stopped seeking or valuing
happy and long-lasting marriage as an important life goal, they are
increasingly likely to find that this goal eludes them. Americans may
marry but they have a hard time achieving successful marriages. One
measure of success is the intactness of the marriage. Although the
divorce rate has leveled off, it remains at historically high levels.
Roughly half of all marriages are likely to end in divorce or permanent
separation, according to projections based on current divorce rates.
Another measure of success is reported happiness in marriage. Over the
past two decades, the percentage of people who say they are in ``very
happy'' first marriages has declined substantially and continuously.
Still another measure of success is social confidence in the likelihood
of marital success. Young people, and especially young women, are
growing more pessimistic about their chances for a happy and long-
The popular culture strongly reinforces this sense of pessimism,
even doom, about the chances for marital success. Divorce is an ever-
present theme in the books, music and movies of the youth culture. And
real life experience is hardly reassuring; today's young adults have
grown up in the midst of the divorce revolution, and they've witnessed
marital failure and breakdown first-hand in their own families and in
the families of friends, relatives, and neighbors. For children whose
parents divorced, the risk of divorce is two to three times greater
than it is for children from married parent families. But the pervasive
generational experience of divorce has made almost all young adults
more cautious and even wary of marriage. The percent of young people
who say they agree or mostly agree with the statement ``one sees so few
good marriages that one questions it as a way of life'' increased
between 1976 and 1992, while the percent of those who say it is very
likely they will stay married to the same person for life decreased
over the same time period for both males and females.3
\3\ Norval D. Glenn, ``Values, Attitudes and the State of American
Marriage,'' Promises To Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in
America, ed. David Popenoe, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and David Blankenhorn
(Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 21.
Marriage as a Rite of Passage
For most of this century and certainly before, marriage was one of
the most important rites of passage in life. It accomplished several
goals associated with growing up: an economic transition from the
parental household into an independent household, a psychosexual
transition merging two selves and lives into one, and a social and
legal transition from status as a single person to a spouse. Across
time and culture, betrothal and wedding rituals reflected these
economic, social and sexual dimensions of young people's coming of age.
Today, marriage has lost much of its role and significance as a
rite of passage. For earlier generations of women, first sexual
intercourse and marriage were closely linked and timed. Ninety percent
of women born between 1933-42 were either virgins when they married or
had premarital intercourse with the man they wed.4 For
today's generation of young women, the timing of first sexual
intercourse is increasingly distant from the timing of first marriage.
Just over half of teenage girls have experienced first sexual
intercourse by age 17.5 Teenage girls are sexually active
for seven or eight years on average before marriage. Indeed, premarital
sex has become something of a misnomer. Sex is increasingly detached
from the promise or expectation of marriage.
\4\ Michael et. al, 97.
\5\ Kristin A. Moore, Anne K. Driscoll, Laura Duberstein Lindberg,
A Statistical Portrait of Adolescent Sex, Contraception and
Childbearing (Washington DC.: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy, March 1998), 3. Figure is based on 1995 National Survey of
Secondly, because young adults are postponing marriage until their
late twenties, they pass through much of their twenties as never-
married singles. They are likely to live apart from the parental
household, as singles, in a peer-group household, or in a cohabiting
relationship. Many have ``their own lives and their own jobs'' long
before they marry.
During the years before first marriage, many young adults make the
economic transition from dependence to independence. The National
Marriage Project's recent study of never-married, noncollege young men
and women in northern New Jersey finds that these young adults are not
inclined to see marriage as a way to get ahead by pooling
paychecks.6 Rather, they describe marriage as a relationship
where each partner contributes to the maintenance of the household but
keeps control of his or her own earnings. Moreover, these men and women
believe that each partner has to demonstrate a capacity to take care of
himself or herself economically before marrying. As one young woman in
the group explained, ``men learn to hate you if you try to live off
\6\ Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, Why Wed? Young
Adults Talk About Sex, Love and First Unions (New Brunswick, N.J.:
National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, 1999).
The pathway leading to marriage has changed as well. The pattern of
mating used to follow a sequence: couple dating, going steady, sexual
experimentation--sometimes including premarital sexual intercourse--and
then marriage and children. Few people lived together before marriage,
and most women were either virgins at the time of marriage or had
premarital intercourse only with their future husband.
Today the pathway is more complex and varied, but it goes in
roughly this order: In high school and college, young people socialize
in coed groups with some pairing off for purposes of love and sex.
First sexual intercourse occurs in the late teens but it is typically
not premarital. In their twenties, young people are likely to enter a
cohabiting partnership as a first living together union. Cohabiting
unions are short-term. Either they break up or, more likely, lead to
marriage. An estimated 60 percent of cohabiting unions end in
marriage.7 Pregnancy and childbearing might occur at almost
any point in this mating sequence.
\7\ Larry Bumpass and James Sweet, ``National Estimates of
Cohabitation,'' Demography 24-4 (1989): 615-625.
Cohabitation is emerging as a significant experience for young
adults. It is now replacing marriage as the first living together
union. It is estimated that a quarter of unmarried women between the
ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner and about half
have lived at some time with an unmarried partner.8 A
growing percentage of cohabiting unions include children. For unmarried
couples in the 25-34 age group, the percentage with children approaches
half of all such households.9
\8\ Larry Bumpass and Hsien-Hen Lu, ``Trends in Cohabitation and
Implications for Children's Family Contexts.'' Unpublished manuscript,
1998. Center for Demography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.
\9\ Wendy D. Manning and Daniel T. Lichter, ``Parental Cohabitation
and Children's Economic Well-Being'' Journal of Marriage and the Family
58 (1996): 998-1010.
Recent studies point to significant differences between never-
married, childless, engaged cohabiting couples and cohabiting couples
who have not set a definite date to marry. Prenuptial cohabitors seem
to look a lot like married couples in the level of commitment,
happiness and frequency of conflict. Non-nuptial cohabitors, however,
are significantly more likely than married or prenuptial cohabiting
couples to experience domestic violence, to be sexually unfaithful, to
have lower expectations and levels of commitment.10
\10\ Linda J. Waite, ``Cohabitation: A Communitarian Perspective,''
unpublished paper presented to the Communitarian Family Task Force,
Washington, DC, January 1999, 13.
University of Chicago sociologist Linda J. Waite finds that
cohabitation involves a different ``bargain'' than marriage. Compared
to married couples, cohabitors expect less mutuality and sharing of
resources, friends, leisure activities and goals.11 They are
less likely than married couples to ``specialize'' in their living
together unions and thus to achieve higher levels of productivity. In
many respects, cohabiting couples behave like roommates, sharing a
residence and some household expenses, but remaining separate in many
of their social and economic pursuits.
\11\ Waite, 8-13, passim.
Marriage in the Life Course
Marriage occupies a significant proportion of the adult life span.
Because of increasing longevity, one might expect the duration of
marriage to increase in the future. But longer lives probably will not
result in longer marriages, for several reasons. One is the later age
of first marriage. Young people are postponing first marriage until
they are well into their twenties. The second is the higher likelihood
of divorce today. Still another is the decline in the rate of marriage
and remarriage, especially for women. Finally, there is the rise in
cohabiting unions after divorce or as an alternative to marriage. Older
widowed or divorced individuals may choose to cohabit rather than
remarry in order to avoid legal, economic and health-related
entanglements. As a result of these forces, the lifetime proportion of
marriage has declined slightly for women since mid-century, although
the decline has been far steeper for Black women than others.
There are also some indications that lifelong singlehood may be
increasing. The likelihood that adults will marry has declined
dramatically since 1960. Much of this decline results from the
postponement of first marriages until older ages, but it may also
reflect a growing trend toward the single life. In 1960, 94 percent of
women had been married at least once by age 45. If the present trend
continues, fewer than 85 percent of current young adults will marry.
Another important trend toward singlehood is apparent in the status
of single mothers. In the past, single mothers were likely to be
widowed or divorced. For those who bore children out of wedlock,
moreover, single motherhood tended to be a temporary status. They went
on to marry and to have other children in wedlock. Today, single
mothers are increasingly likely to have never married. And they are
more likely to stay single, so unwed motherhood has become a permanent
status for many women.
These convergent forces suggest that although marriage remains an
important feature of adulthood, it no longer looms like Mount Everest
in the landscape of the adult life course. It is more like a hill that
people climb, up and down, once or twice, or bypass altogether.
Marriage as a Social Institution
Marriage is losing much of its status and authority as a social
institution. According to legal scholar John Witte Jr., ``the early
Enlightenment ideals of marriage as a permanent contractual union
designed for the sake of mutual love, procreation and protection is
slowly giving way to a new reality of marriage as a `terminal sexual
contract' designed for the gratification of the individual parties.''
12 Marriage has lost broad support within the community and
even among some of the religious faithful. In some denominations,
clergy avoid preaching and teaching about marriage for fear of
offending divorced parishioners. Marriage is also discredited or
neglected in the popular culture. Consequently, young adults, who
desperately want to avoid marital failure, find little advice, support
and guidance on marriage from the peer or popular culture or from
parents, clergy or others who have traditionally guided and supported
the younger generation in matters of mating and marrying.
\12\ John Witte, Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage,
Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (Louisville, KY, Westminster
John Knox Press, 1997), 209.
This loss of broad institutional support for marriage is evident in
the marital relationship itself. Not so long ago, the marital
relationship consisted of three elements: an economic bond of mutual
dependency; a social bond supported by the extended family and larger
community; and a spiritual bond upheld by religious doctrine,
observance and faith. Today many marriages have none of these elements.
The deinstitutionalization of marriage is one of the chief reasons
why it is more fragile today. For most Americans, marriage is a
``couples relationship'' designed primarily to meet the sexual and
emotional needs of the spouses. Increasingly, happiness in marriage is
measured by each partner's sense of psychological wellbeing rather than
the more traditional measures of getting ahead economically, boosting
children up to a higher rung on the educational ladder than the
parents, or following religious teachings on marriage. People tend to
be puzzled or put off by the idea that marriage has purposes or
benefits that extend beyond fulfilling individual adult needs for
intimacy and satisfaction. In this respect, marriage is increasingly
indistinguishable from other ``intimate relationships'' which are also
evaluated on the basis of sexual and emotional satisfaction.
Women and Marriage
When we look at the state of marriage today, it is useful to
consider the behavior and attitudes of young women. Historically, women
are the normsetters in courtship and marital relationships as well as
the bearers of the cultural traditions of marriage. (To test this
proposition, simply compare the amount of space devoted to marriage in
women's magazines to that in men's magazines.) So women's attitudes and
expectations for marriage are an important measure of overall social
confidence in the institution and a weathervane of which way the
marital winds are blowing.
What do we know about the mating and marrying behavior of young
women today? For one thing, women are older when they marry. The median
age of first marriage for a woman is now 25, compared to 20 in 1960.
For another, women who marry today are much less likely to be virgins
than women in past decades. For yet another, most young women enter
marriage after having lived with a partner, though not always their
marriage partner. Finally, a significant percentage of young women have
children outside of marriage. Women who become single mothers are less
likely to ever marry.
Compared to men, young women are more disenchanted with marriage.
This growing pessimism is particularly pronounced among teenage girls.
For high school girls who expect to marry (or who are already married),
the belief that their marriage will last a lifetime has declined over
the past two decades while high school boys have become slightly more
optimistic. Teenage girls are increasingly tolerant of unwed
childbearing. Indeed, they outpace teenage boys in their acceptance of
unwed childbearing today, a notable reversal from earlier decades when
teenage girls were less tolerant of nonmarital births than teenage
Women's disenchantment should not be taken as a lack of interest in
having husbands. But their growing pessimism may reflect two convergent
realities. One is women's higher expectations for emotional intimacy in
marriage and more exacting standards for a husband's participation in
childrearing and the overall work of the household. These expectations
may not be shared or met by husbands, and thus the mismatch may lead to
deep disappointment and dissatisfaction. The other is women's growing
economic independence. Because women are better educated and more
likely to be employed outside of the home today than in the past, they
are not as dependent on marriage as an economic partnership.
Consequently, they are less likely to ``put up'' with a bad marriage
out of sheer economic necessity and more likely to leave when they
experience unhappiness in their marriages. Moreover, because wives are
breadwinners, they expect a more equitable division of household work--
not always a fifty-fifty split but fairness in the sharing of the work
of the home. Thus, the experience of working outside the home
contributes simultaneously to greater economic independence and less
tolerance for husbands who exempt themselves from involvement with
children and the household. ``I don't need a grown-up baby to take care
of,'' is a complaint often voiced by working married mothers.
Some Good News about Marriage
Not all the marriage indicators are negative. Here and there, we
find modest signs of positive change in attitudes or behavior.
Married couples today are somewhat less likely to end up
in divorce court than several years ago. After one and a half decades
of sharp increase, the divorce rate has declined slightly and
stabilized in recent years. Although projections based on the current
rate suggest that close to half of all marriages are likely to end in
divorce or permanent separation, that projection could change if the
divorce rate declines in the future.
The rate of unwed births has declined for the third year
in a row, although the ratio of unwed and marital births remains the
same. Mainly as a consequence of the modest reduction in both divorce
and unwed births, the percentage of children living in single parent
families has remained stable in the past two years (1996-98).
The percentage of young Americans who say that having a
good marriage is extremely important to them as a life goal has
increased slightly since the 1980s.
Conclusion: Marriage is weakening but it is too soon to write its
obituary. . . .
Taken together, the marriage indicators do not argue for optimism
about a quick or widespread comeback of marriage. Persistent long-term
trends suggest a steady weakening of marriage as a lasting union, a
major stage in the adult life course, and as the primary institution
governing childbearing and parenthood. Young people's pessimism about
their chances for marital success combined with their growing
acceptance of unwed parenthood also do not bode well for marriage.
Nonetheless, there are some reasons for hope. For example, given
the increased importance of marriage to teenagers, it is possible that
this generation will work hard at staying happily married. The decline
in the unwed birth rate is also a good sign. And there are stirrings of
a larger grass-roots marriage movement. Churches in more than a hundred
communities have joined together to establish a common set of
premarital counseling standards and practices for engaged couples. A
marriage education movement is emerging among marriage therapists,
family life educators, schoolteachers and some clergy. In the states,
legislators are considering or have passed bills creating incentives
for engaged couples to receive premarital education. Florida now
requires marriage education for high school students.
This is not the first time in the millennial-long history of
western marriage that marriage has seemed headed for the dustbins and
then recovered. Certainly it is possible that the nation is on the cusp
of a turnaround in some of the negative marital trends. Perhaps the
last four decades have merely been a ``great disruption,'' in the words
of social analyst Francis Fukuyama, and Americans will respond to the
weakening of marriage with renewed dedication and success in achieving
the goal of a long-lasting happy marriage. The positive trends bear
watching and are encouraging, but it is still too soon to tell whether
they will persist or result in a comeback of this important social
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mr. Popenoe; and now we will
hear from Ms. Theodora Ooms, the Center for Law and Social
STATEMENT OF THEODORA OOMS, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, CENTER FOR
LAW AND SOCIAL POLICY
Ms. Ooms. I am very glad to be here. I am a Senior Policy
Analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy and direct The
Couples & Marriage Policy Resource Center, independently from
my position at the center, I am also a senior consultant to the
Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, and it is a very, very
interesting initiative. We will learn a lot from it.
I commend you for holding this hearing on such an
important, complicated and sensitive topic that matters so much
to the well-being of children. My testimony focuses mainly on
what States are doing to implement the three family formation
goals of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act; promoting marriage,
reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancy and encouraging the formation
and maintenance of two-parent families.
The majority of States are making some efforts to pursue
these three goals. Many of these efforts are focused on
important steps such as removing policy barriers that
discourage marriage. For example, 33 States have changed their
policies, so that they now treat single and two-parent families
equally in determining eligibility for TANF. Second, in order
to reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing, many States are focusing
on prevention of teen pregnancy. This strategy makes sense,
since nearly 80 percent of teen births are non-marital and one-
third of all non-marital births are to teenagers. Moreover,
these figures underestimate the important role of teen
pregnancy in the overall problem. 57 percent of non-marital
births are either to teens or to adults who had their first
birth as a teenager, about a half of non-marital births are
second or later births.
As we heard in the previous panel, two States thus far,
Oklahoma and Arizona, have taken steps to use TANF funds to
support a number of new, innovative, educational activities
designed to strengthen couples and marriage. There is no
information available about the number and scope of any county-
level initiatives, but, anecdotally, we have learned of a few.
For example, the Greater Grand Rapids Community Marriage Policy
is doing a study of TANF welfare clients and caseworkers in
order to determine what kinds of help would be appropriate to
offer low-income couples.
Some of the things we are doing already are related to
these goals indirectly. It is also estimated that publicly
funded family planning averts around 800,000 or so out-of-
wedlock pregnancies a year. State programs such as child
support enforcement and publicly funded family planning also
contribute to achieving these family formation goals. There is
evidence, for example, that States that have effective child
support enforcement had lower rates of divorce, non-marital
births and teen births.
Programs that reduce economic stress on couples can also
promote marital stability. It was mentioned earlier that there
is a great deal of interest in the findings of the Minnesota
Family Independence Program, which was a welfare-to-work
demonstration program implemented in 1994 to 1998. It gave
increased financial support to working parents through earned-
income disregards and was found to significantly increase
marital stability in two-parent families, and it made it
somewhat more likely that single parents got married. These
findings are really important because they address the fact
that the breakup of marriage not only contributes to poverty,
but poverty can cause stress on marriages and make it harder
for people to marry.
What does all this tell us? The field of couples and
marriage policy is clearly in its infancy and there is very
little known about what works. The 1996 Welfare Reform Law drew
upon more than a decade of welfare-to-work demonstrations to
shape and support the work-related goals. By contrast, there
have been no similar demonstrations, policies or programs
designed to explicitly strengthen marriage and two-parent
families to guide States' efforts to implement the marriage
goals. I think that this is obviously one reason, as has been
said before, why States have been moving cautiously in this
area. I think there are other reasons, too. It is not only the
lack of knowledge.
While most Americans value marriage, many have had direct
and, sometimes, very painful experiences related to the
difficulty in making marriages succeed. Many view marriage and
divorce as private matters. They are very unsure about whether
the government should play a role and, if so, what its role
should be. Also, marriage is not always a good thing. Some
marriages need to be ended, and we know that some children do
better when their parents divorce if the divorce is one in
which the parents were in high-conflict.
So, while many agree that promoting healthy marriages is an
appropriate policy goal, I think we have to act cautiously in
order to bring the public along in this debate and allay these
concerns. For example we know that in individual circumstances
marriage may not be feasible or desirable for a particular
couple. Thus, we should hold onto a secondary goal to support
responsible, cooperative parenting on the part of both parents.
Finally, we need to know more. While there is a good deal
of academic research on these subjects, for the most part it
has not been translated into policy and many gaps remain. We
need more policy-relevant research and we need much better
marriage and divorce statistics. We also need States and
communities to conduct thoughtful demonstration programs and
initiatives that are carefully evaluated. This public
discussion and debate about the importance of marriage has only
just begun. It is going to be critical for informing the public
and building public support for strategies to strengthen
marriage and families.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Ooms follows:]
Statement of Theodora Ooms, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Law and
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting me to testify. My name is Theodora Ooms. I
am a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy
(CLASP). CLASP is a non-profit organization engaged in research,
analysis, technical assistance and advocacy on issues affecting low-
income families. CLASP does not receive government funds.
Independently, I am also a senior consultant to the Governor and First
Lady's Marriage Initiative in Oklahoma.
My testimony today will focus primarily on what states are doing to
promote the family formation goals of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law (The
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,
P.L.104-193). I find that the majority of states are making at least
some effort to directly pursue these goals. There are understandable
reasons for states to proceed cautiously. Little is known about what
approaches are effective, and many are unsure about the appropriate
role of government's role should be on these sensitive and personal
issues. It also appears that programs that provide enhanced economic
security and other kinds of family support may indirectly promote
marriage and reduce non-marital childbearing. In two states, and a few
communities some innovative marriage-related initiatives are being
tried out. They highlight the need for additional well evaluated
I will begin with a brief description of the family formation
provisions in the law and related features. The 1996 law establishing
the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families program (TANF), three
``family formation'' goals are spelled out in the four purposes of the
Act (emphasis added):
(i) ``to provide assistance to needy families so that children may
be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives'';
(ii) ``to end dependence of needy parents on government benefits by
promoting job preparation, work and marriage'';
(iii) ``to prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock
pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and
reducing the incidence of these pregnancies'';
(iv) ``to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent
The law establishes flexibility regarding who can receive services.
Purpose (ii) is limited to spending TANF funds on ``needy'' families
(as defined by the state). Purposes (iii) and (iv) are not directed
solely at ``needy'' families.
The federal government has given some guidance to states on
examples of allowable types of activities related to the family
formation goals. In 1999 the Administration for Children and Families
(ACF) published Helping Families Achieve Self-Sufficiency: A Guide on
Funding for Children and Families through the TANF program. This
document makes clear that states have considerable flexibility in how
to spend their block grant funds to achieve these TANF goals. The Guide
offered several suggestions of policy changes or activities that could
be engaged in to promote marriage and encourage two parent families
Two parent families are not defined in the law, thus states are
free to establish their own reasonable definitions. Thus in addressing
the fourth purpose states may choose a broad definition in order to try
to improve and stabilize the relationships between two parents whether
they are married, unmarried, separated or divorced, and whether they
are living together or not.
The law offers states a financial incentive to reduce out-of-
wedlock childbearing. It authorizes a total of $100 million in annual
bonus payments to those five states that achieve the largest reductions
in out-of-wedlock births among welfare and non-welfare teens and
adults, while also reducing their abortion rate below the 1995 level.
On August 30, 2000 the Administration issued a rule establishing
four new measures for the High Performance Bonus, including a measure
of family formation and stability (in addition to the work-related
measures already established). The ``marriage'' bonus will be awarded
on the basis of the increase in the percent of all children in each
state who reside in married couple families. In FY 2002 and beyond, the
government will award $10 million to be divided between the ten States
with the greatest percentage point improvement in this measure. States
may choose to compete on this measure (states will be ranked only if
they indicate they wish to compete).
Many states are using TANF funds to prevent out-of-wedlock births and
are focusing primarily on teen pregnancy prevention
A recent CRS report (relying on current state TANF plans, state
administrative codes and statutes, and a January, 2000 CRS Benefit
Survey) provides a summary of what states are doing related to reducing
out-of-wedlock pregnancies and points out that much of the focus is
given to adolescents. This report mentions that ``a sizeable number of
states describe awarding of competitive grants, or provision of other
kinds of program resources to community groups, counties or local
school districts who operate programs aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock
pregnancy--especially teen pregnancy. Promotion of sexual
``abstinence'' (cited by 26 jurisdictions) and provision of ``family
planning'' services (cited by 25 jurisdictions) are frequently listed
as components of a state's effort to meet the goal of reducing out-of-
wedlock pregnancy'' (Stoltzfus et. al., 2000, p. 29-30). Earlier
studies reported that most states have tapped some TANF funds for teen
pregnancy prevention projects and for family planning initiatives
(cited in Cohen, January 2000 & Hutson & Levin-Epstein, January, 2000).
Since nearly 80% of teen births are out-of-wedlock, the states'
emphasis on activities designed to reduce teen pregnancies is
reasonable. Teen births now constitute one-third of all out-of-wedlock
births. This figure masks the important role of teen pregnancy in non-
marital childbearing; about 57% of all non-marital births were to teens
or to adult women who had their first birth as a teenager (Child
Trends, 2001). About half of non-marital births are second or later
births. Moreover states are aware that efforts to reduce teen pregnancy
are contributing to the decline in teen birth rates and there is now
good evidence of several program models that are effective in reducing
teen pregnancy (Kirby, 2001).
Virginia is one example of a state that is making a deliberate
effort to win the out-of-wedlock bonus by focusing on adults. The
Virginia Health Department is spending state funds and $1million of
TANF funds to support the formation of eighteen community-based out-of-
wedlock pregnancy prevention coalitions, Partners in Prevention. These
coalitions are especially targeting young adults, ages 20-29, with the
message that ``marriage is the right place for a child to be born.''
The majority of states have taken at least some policy measures to
strengthen two parent families and promote marriage
The clear majority of states have taken steps to drop the stricter
eligibility requirement for two parent (married and unmarried) family
households that existed in the AFDC program: as of 1999, thirty three
states' policies now effectively treat such families the same as single
parent families when determining eligibility (SPDP, 2000). Some states
explicitly describe this policy change as an encouragement of two-
parent families (Stoltzfus et.al., 2000). At the same time, at least 14
states have now established state-funded programs for two parent
families in order to provide assistance to these families without
risking the penalties associated with the TANF high work participation
rates for two parent families (SPDP, 2000).
Several states have spent TANF dollars on programs to encourage
responsible fatherhood among low-income populations. The National
Conference of State Legislatures reports that typically these programs
offer a variety of services primarily targeted on non-custodial
fathers, including employment-related services, peer support groups and
services designed to improve parenting skills. A few also offer co-
parenting, ``team'' parenting, mediation or other programs designed to
improve the relationship between the mother and the father. California
has redirected some of its unspent TANF dollars to fund seven county
programs targeted at fathers. Missouri expanded its Parents Fair Share
program statewide using $10 million over two years. Other states using
TANF funds for these activities include Florida, Arizona, North
Carolina, and Ohio (see Reichert, D. 2000).
A few states have made other TANF policy adjustments to modify
current treatment of couples. The recent CRS study reports that `` a
few states (Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma) have sought to
encourage marriage or re-marriage by disregarding all income of the new
spouse during a post wedding adjustment period (3-6 months). This
adjustment time is intended to enable the family to pay bills and
otherwise establish its independence before aid is ended. West Virginia
adds a $100 marriage incentive payment to the monthly cash benefit of
any family that includes a legally married man and woman who live
together.,'' (Stoltzfus et. al., 2000: p 29.). And in 1999 the Oklahoma
Department of Human Services began including the income of both
individuals in a cohabiting (unmarried) couple household when
determining eligibility for assistance, with the justification that
this policy change `` will promote marriage.''
Two states to date--Oklahoma and Arizona--have taken steps to use TANF
funds to pursue the family formation goals through launching a
number of specific marriage-strengthening activities
Oklahoma. In January, 1999, Governor Frank Keating in his Inaugural
and State of the State addresses laid out a series of social goals
including a commitment to reducing the state's divorce rate by one
third by 2010. Oklahoma's divorce rate was the second highest in the
nation and believed to have serious economic consequences for children,
adults and the state's economy. (As noted in an article about this
initiative by Blaine Harden in the New York Times, May 21, 2001, the
Census 2000 also shows that the increases in cohabitation in Oklahoma
and other Bible Belt states are well above the 72% decade increase in
unmarried couples found in the nation as a whole.)
In February the Governor and the First Lady hosted a Conference on
Marriage which event launched the statewide Marriage Initiative. From
the outset it was planned to be a multi-sector initiative including
religion, business, government, legal, health and social service
providers, universities and the media. The first year involved leaders
from these different sectors developing action plans that encompassed a
broad spectrum of activities across the state.
A year later, in March 2000 the Governor announced his decision to
set aside $10 million out of the TANF reserve fund to be used to
strengthen marriage and reduce divorce. The TANF funds will be used to
target services primarily, but not exclusively, to low income
populations who are at greatest risk of marital instability and for
whom there are few services available.
As of March 2001, Oklahoma's plan includes:
Ongoing public education and awareness activities using
the media, and national marriage experts;
Building the capacity of maternal and child health,
welfare, and other government funded services--such as the statewide
nurse home-visiting program-- to help strengthen and stabilize young
parents' relationship and promote marriage;
Investing in training state employees and community
leaders (child guidance personnel in the Health Department, family life
educators in the Cooperative Extension Service, & ministers, pastors &
mental health professionals) to offer education and relationships
skills workshops initially in seven pilot counties, & ultimately in
every county in the state;
Piloting a married couples mentoring program to serve as
follow up support for couples participating in the skills workshops;
Assisting fatherhood and youth development projects to
integrate a focus on marriage;
Improving the collection of divorce and marriage
statistics in the state vital statistics system;
Encouraging the states' most prominent religious leaders
across denominations and faiths to sign a covenant to agree to offer
serious marriage preparation courses and marriage mentors to couples
during the first crucial years of marriage;
Conducting a statewide survey of churches, congregations,
synagogues, & mosques to find out what marriage and family related
services and supports they provided or would be interested in
Collaborating with Oklahoma State University in a variety
of research and evaluation activities including a baseline telephone
survey of Oklahomans to determine attitudes about marriage, evaluation
of the relationships skills workshops, and other projects;
Establishing a Resource Center of materials and program
models, and a directory of services and programs available throughout
the state (to be posted on the Center's web site);
To implement Charitable Choice, hiring a full time person
to serve as the state government's liaison with the faith-based
community on marriage and other issues.
This Initiative is assisted by a broad based, statewide steering
committee (including representatives of the domestic violence
community) and with the advice and consultation of state and national
experts in couples and marriage research, programs and policy.
Arizona. In April 2000, Governor Hull signed a bill (HB 2199) that
includes an allocation of $1.65 million of TANF funds to be spent on
prevention-oriented, marriage-related activities:
Grants for community-based marriage and communications
skills programs ($1 million);
Vouchers to married or cohabiting parents whose income is
less than 150% of poverty to attend marriage skills training courses
The development and printing of the marriage handbook by
the Marriage and Communication Skills Commission (an advisory body to
be newly established) ($75,000).
In March 2001, the request for proposals, designed by the
Commission, was issued. The Commission will review the applications and
make recommendations to the Governor about who should be given the
grant awards. The Marriage Handbook is in process of being drafted. And
new legislation is being proposed to conduct an advertising campaign to
complement these activities.
There has been no systematic study of the number and scope of any
county level initiatives, but from available information there
appear to be a few
In some states many decisions about the welfare program are
devolved to the county level. In Colorado, legislation was introduced
in early 2001 that would permit county welfare agencies to provide a
TANF recipient with a one-time payment of from $500-$1000 if she
married--what some referred to as a marriage ``bonus'' or ``dowry''.
The bill passed the House but was voted down in the Senate.
Small TANF grants have been given to support marriage-related
services in Grand Rapids, in Indianapolis and undoubtedly other
communities as well. The Greater Grand Rapids Community Marriage Policy
(GGRCMP) is working with the Kent County welfare agency to conduct a
survey of TANF clients and caseworkers to determine what kinds of
services and supports would be appropriate to offer low income couples
as part of the Initiative. The GGRCMP is a multi-sector initiative
sponsoring a wide variety of activities aimed at reducing the divorce
rate in order to improve the well-being of children. It includes a
strong emphasis on research. (www.GGRCmarriagepolicy.org)
Faith-based organizations appear to have not yet used the charitable
choice provision to build their capacity to deliver marriage
The TANF law includes a charitable choice provision which allows
contracts, vouchers or other funding for charitable, religious or
private organizations. At least two dozen states have established
either financial or formal non-financial collaborations with faith-
based organizations by the end of 1999, and several others were in the
process (Sherman, March 2000). State governments that have been most
proactive include Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Mississippi. In
communities in these and other states faith-based organizations (FBOs)
are providing a variety of social services with TANF funding such as
mentoring, job training, mental health counseling or emergency housing,
life skills training and alcohol or other drug addiction programs.
While there are some anecdotal stories of their doing so, there are no
published reports of any FBOs using this provision to build their
capacity to offer couples and marriage-related services.
Programs whose primary purposes are to enhance economic security or
provide other kinds of family support may also indirectly
promote marriage and reduce non-marital childbearing
Evidence is beginning to emerge that a number of existing family
support programs appear to indirectly promote and stabilize marriage
and reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing. For example, there are several
new studies that show that states that have more effective child
support enforcement had lower rates of divorce, non-marital births and
teen births (Plotnick et al., 2000; Nixon, 1997). Publicly funded
family planning programs are estimated by the Alan Guttmacher Institute
to avert around one million out-of-wedlock births a year. One study
found that when Medicaid eligibility was expanded and made available to
additional low-income families, including two-parent families, there
were significant, positive effects on marriage rates (Yelowitz, 1997).
Finally, there has been a great deal of recent interest in the
finding that the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP)
significantly increased marital stability and made it somewhat more
likely that single parents got married (Gennetian & Miller, 2000; Knox,
Miller & Gennetian, 2000). (MFIP was a demonstration welfare-to-work
program conducted between 1994-1998 and evaluated by the Manpower
Demonstration Research Corporation. It included an enhanced earnings
disregard, a work participation requirement and offered similar
eligibility requirements for one and two-parent families).
In an analysis of these findings the authors conclude that the
positive marriage effects were driven largely by the increases in
families' incomes, and less by the streamlined eligibility rules. The
researchers conclude that the study shows that ``increased financial
support can affect marriage decisions. For single parents, increased
financial security may have represented increased bargaining power
within marriage. For two-parent families, the results suggest that the
program increased marital stability because it allowed some two-earner
families to cut back on work, but also because it increased income for
very-low-income families,'' (Gennetian & Miller, 2000).
The field of marriage policy is in its infancy, very little is known
about what works and many remain unsure about the appropriate
role of government
There are several reasons why it may be appropriate to move forward
cautiously on specific marriage strengthening proposals. The first is
undoubtedly that there is very little information available about what
works, and about what strategies can responsibly be pursued to achieve
these goals. The 1996 welfare reform legislation drew upon more than a
decade of lessons from the numerous demonstration programs on welfare-
to-work to shape and undergird its work-related goals. There have been
no similar demonstrations of policies or programs designed to
strengthen marriage and two-parent families.
Second, promoting marriage and strengthening two-parent families
are very new goals for public policy. The vast majority of Americans,
across race and income, have had some direct personal, and often
painful, experiences with the ``retreat'' from marriage. While the
public continues to support marriage as an ideal, many in both
political parties remain unsure about the appropriate role of the
government sector in what they regard to be a private matter.
The widespread public discussion and debate that is needed to
develop a consensus on appropriate strategies has only just begun. Some
believe that the decline in marriage is a worldwide phenomenon and are
skeptical that anything can be done to arrest it. Others are concerned
that promoting marriage inadvertently stigmatizes single parents and
people of color, and worry that some policy proposals may be coercive,
ignore domestic violence, and aim to restore patriarchy and bring back
the concept of ``illegitimacy'' (Ooms, 1998). Others believe that
marriage is no longer valued in low-income communities, and has little
relevance as a solution to the complex burdens of poverty. Yet studies
show that marriage is still held in high regard by the majority of low-
income women and men, but for a variety of reasons--shortage of
``marriageable'' men, policy and program barriers, and so forth--is
seen as personally unattainable (Ooms, forthcoming).
More research, better statistics, and well-evaluated demonstration
programs are needed to help guide marriage policy and build
public education and support
A substantial body of research exists on the multiple causes of
marital decline, on the consequences of single parenthood for child
well being, on the benefits of marriage, and on what makes
relationships work and marriages succeed. This research, however, is
highly dispersed among many different academic disciplines. By and
large this knowledge has not been translated into programs and policies
designed to strengthen couples and marriage. There are several model
curricula designed to teach couples relationship skills and attitudes,
and studies show that some of the research-based approaches have
promise. But these programs have not been implemented and evaluated on
a large scale. Nor have they been adapted to the special needs and
circumstances of different income, racial, and cultural groups.
Moreover there are many gaps in the research--especially related to
understanding family formation among low-income populations and people
of color. Moreover it would seem wise to fund carefully evaluated pilot
demonstration programs before implementing specific marriage strategies
on a national scale.
The Fragile Families and Child Well-being study, co-directed by
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University and Irv Garfinkel of Columbia
University, is an exciting example of the kind of research that is
needed. This research is focused on new parents and is being conducted
in 21 cities. The sample consists of 3,600 unmarried parents and 1,200
married parents who are interviewed at the time of birth, and then
followed for four years. In addition, information will be collected on
the child development and well-being.
Early findings from this study are already challenging some
widespread perceptions about unmarried parents; for example, over half
live together, 80% are romantically involved, and 70% say their chances
of marriage are 50-50 or better. The study is collecting information
about the personal characteristics and program and policy barriers that
lead to the instability and break up of many of these couples. These
findings strongly suggest that the most opportune time to design
services and supports for unmarried couples is around the ``magic
moment'' of the birth of their child.
Finally, in order to monitor and assess the effectiveness of state
and local efforts related to marriage the federal government needs to
invest in improving the basic vital statistics on marriage and divorce
to bring them up to the level of birth and death statistics Marriage
and divorce statistics are of poor quality and lacking in many states.
In 1995 the federal government decided to discontinue collecting these
statistics from the states, thus currently there are no national data
available on marriage and divorce rates (Ooms, 1999).
In conclusion the central questions in the forthcoming
reauthorization debate about these issues need to be:
1. What is the appropriate role for the federal and state
government in strengthening two parent families and marriage?
2. Do we know what works, and how can we learn more?
3. How can the family formation goals be advanced in ways that do
not risk unintended adverse effects for children or their parents?
4. Is TANF an appropriate vehicle to pursue these goals? Are there
other vehicles that might be used as well?
Child Trends, 2001. These data come from unpublished calculations
by Child Trends, Washington, DC of data from the National Survey of
Family Growth based on the years 1992 to 1995; the prior teen birth is
assumed to be a nonmarital birth in this calculation.
Cohen, M., April 1999. Tapping TANF: When and How Welfare Funds Can
Support Reproductive Health or Teen Parent Initiatives. Washington, DC:
Center for Law and Social Policy.
Gennetian, L.A. and Miller, C., October 2000. Encouraging the
Formation and Maintenance of Two-Parent Families: Experimental Evidence
on Welfare Reform. Unpublished paper. N.Y.: Manpower Demonstration
Hutson, R. & Levin-Epstein, J. January 2000, Linking Family
Planning with Other Social Services: The Perspectives of State Family
Planning Administrators. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social
Kirby, D., May 2001. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on
Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to
Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Knox, V., Miller, C. & Gennetian, L.A., September 2000, Reforming
Welfare and Rewarding Work: A Summary of the Final Report on the
Minnesota Family Investment Program. New York: Manpower Demonstration
Nixon, L.A. 1997. The Effect of Child Support Enforcement on
Marital Dissolution. Journal of Human Resources, Winter, 1997.
Ooms, T. 1998. Towards More Perfect Unions: Putting Marriage on the
Public Agenda. Washington, DC: Family Impact Seminar. Available from
Ooms, T. 1999. The Lamentable Status of Marriage and Divorce
Statistics. Background paper. Available from [email protected]
Ooms, T. Strengthening Couples and Marriage in Low Income
Communities, (in press). Paper presented at conference at Brigham Young
University, March 9-11, 2000. To be published in Revitalizing the
Institution of Marriage for the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for
Strengthening Marriage, edited by Alan J. Hawkins, Lynn Wardle & David
Coolidge, CT: Greenwood Press.
Plotnick, R.D., Ku, I., Garfinkel, I & McLanahan, S.S., The Impact
of Child Support Enforcement Policy on Nonmarital Childbearing. Paper
presented at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management,
Year 2000 Research Conference in Seattle. [email protected]
Reichert, D. Connecting Low-Income Fathers and Families: A Guide to
Practical Policies. Denver: National Conference of State Legislatures,
Romero, D., Chavkin, W., and Wise, P.H., State Welfare Reform
Policies and Maternal and Child Health Services: A National Study,
Finding Common Ground in the Era of Welfare Reform and Medicaid Managed
Care, Columbia University School of Public Health, to be submitted for
Sherman, A.L., March 2000. The Growing Impact of Charitable Choice:
A Catalog of New Collaborations between Government and Faith-Based
Organizations in Nine States. Washington, DC: Center for Public
SPDP, State Policy Documentation Project, a joint project of the
Center for Law and Social Policy and the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities. Available on the web at www.spdp.org.
Stoltzfus, E., Burke, V. & Falk, G. Welfare Reform: State Programs
of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Washington, DC:
Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress. September 28,
Yelowitz, A.S., 1997, Will Extending Medicaid to Two-Parent
Families Encourage Marriage? Institute for Research on Poverty,
University of Wisconsin-Madison. Discussion Paper 1118-97.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, Ms. Ooms. Now, Mr.
Pat Fagan, the Heritage Foundation?
STATEMENT OF PATRICK F. FAGAN, WILLIAM H.G. FITZGERALD FELLOW
IN FAMILY AND CULTURAL ISSUES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION
Mr. Fagan. Thank you Chairman Herger, and Mr. Cardin. It is
an honor to be here today. I want to start off with the last
time that the issue of marriage was addressed: in the TANF
legislation. I think you will remember that one of the reasons
why things have progressed so slowly at the State level, was
that there was a serious debate in Congress on the effects of
out-of-wedlock births in children, and I think most people
would agree that Congress was not sure exactly what it should
do with that. Congress knew it was a serious problem. Congress
knew it was a serious issue, but a delicate issue, and were
unsure how to move forward? My read is that Congress ducked the
difficult decision, punted to the States and said, ``You guys
do something about it.''
So, Congress having punted to the States and there is not
much response, because it is not very clear to the States
exactly what Congress was requesting them to do. So, next time
around, if Congress wants to get more action at the State level
it should be a lot clearer on what it would like to see the
States do. Congress should define it more clearly the goals.
Also, in the TANF legislation, Congress removed a massive
amount of discretion on the part of the States in Congress'
mandates on welfare-to-work. Clear guidelines definitely worked
tremendously in the return-to-work dimension of TANF.
As a result of their absence of clear guidelines the total
moneys that will have been spent by all of the States from TANF
moneys on anything to do with restoring marriage will amount to
one-thousandth of 1 percent of TANF moneys: Rather low. This is
the result of the ambiguity and the lack of clarity on what
Congress would like to see the States accomplish.
On the issue of freedom: I do not know anybody working in
this area who does not want all efforts in this area to proceed
with a maximum of freedom. Therefore, I would put freedom right
up front in the name of whatever amendment you propose and call
it the Marriage Choice and Education amendment. Choice and
Freedom should be right in there, because I know of no one who
is interested in any form of coercion.
There was a parallel drawn to the space initiative of the
John F. Kennedy days. In 2001, we are confronted with a much
greater crisis in our society: Today, only 40 out of every 100
children who are born will reach age 18 with their biological
mother and father married in a family. Out of all children
conceived, it is much less: 27 out of every 100 conceived.
Today, America is a dangerous place for a child to be raised,
because of what the breakdown in marriage is doing, whether it
is intended or not, every single breakdown is a serious
rejection of the child by one of the parents, and caused by the
rejection of each other.
All this rejection is putting in place an expanding
negative feedback loop in which boys are falling further and
further behind, and who, especially, among the poor, are
becoming less and less employable, because they do not have a
father around. They do not have an effective male model around.
One of the key things in life that the young male has got to
learn is to go out and work, take responsibility, to prepare
himself to be the provider for his wife and for his children.
Because of the breakdown in marriage we have here a negative
loop where young girls growing up poor have less and less young
boys around who are growing up to be capable of being husbands.
There is a huge need to proceed aggressively in this for
another reason: To the extent that marriage breaks down, the
need for the Federal and State safety net expands in every
single domestic policy department. Therefore, I suggest that in
every social policy agency--Health and Human Services
Department (HHS), Education, Department of Justice, Interior
and Housing and Urban Development Department--there be a very
small office of marriage initiatives--just a couple of people
who will do the work of tracking what is happening out across
the nation, using some of whatever moneys you are going to
provide the States and track this money and advise the States
in how it might be best spent, pointing out what is working,
disseminating the research, ensuring accountability. If these
Offices of Marriage Initiatives, one set up at the Federal
level, it will be very easy for Congress to monitor, through
oversight what is actually happening at the State level and to
make sure it is done with freedom and responsibility, extending
the capacities of the States and of the Federal Government to
move to increase marriage in a way that protects the freedom of
all yet benefits the children with the marriage of their
[The prepared statement of Mr. Fagan follows:]
Statement of Patrick F. Fagan, William H.G. FitzGerald Fellow in Family
and Cultural Issues, Heritage Foundation*
In beginning my testimony I must stress that the views I express
are entirely my own, and should not be construed as representing any
official position of The Heritage Foundation, with that understanding,
I am honored to be asked by the Committee on Ways and Means,
Subcommittee on Human Resources, to testify today on Welfare and
* Members of The Heritage Foundation staff testify as individuals
discussing their own independent research. The views expressed are
their own, and do not reflect an institutional position for The
Heritage Foundation or its board of trustees. G5
The family is the fundamental building block of society and
predates the state and even the societies it builds. This is very
easily seen in the history of the United States where the societies
before the Union was formed had their own very recent histories. Al the
states were clearly preceded by families uniting to form communities
and these communities in turn becoming commonwealths and states. Even
as the Union expanded this pattern was repeated again and again.
At the heart of the family is the mother and father who bring the
child into existence. Each child comes, not seeking to be brought into
the world, but coming as a response to the sexual union of its father
and mother. To grow to adulthood each child thrives best when raised in
a married family where his or her father and mother are permanently
devoted to each other and to their children. The social science data
has always supported this common-sense and ancient insight but recently
the avalanche of research makes this conclusion incontrovertible. And
almost to a piece these studies are produced by politically liberal
academics, not by conservatives. If there is any right that each child
has it is the right to the married love of the father and mother that
brought it, unasked, into existence.
Today however only 28 out of every hundred children conceived in
the United States will reach age 18 having the marriage of the
biological father and mother intact. Only 40 out of every 100 American
children born reach age 18 with the marriage of their biological father
and mother intact. The level of alienation and rejection between
fathers and mothers has reached such astronomical proportions that one
can only conclude that America is a very dangerous place for a child to
come into existence. Despite all our rhetoric of concern for children
we have so far refused to give them that which they most desire and
want: the love of their parents for each other. It is time to begin to
redress this disastrous cultural drift. Not only the welfare of the
nation needs it, the welfare of children cries out for it.
To help Congress in its deliberations for the last round of Welfare
Reform I reviewed the literature on the effects of out of wedlock
births.1 The conclusions still stand and have only been
amplified by time, and the further review of others. Out of Wedlock
Births increase the national incidence of
\1\ For that review of the literature see: Patrick F. Fagan,
``Rising Illegitimacy: American Social Catastrophe'' June 29, 1994, The
Heritage Foundation, FYI #19, 1994.
lowered health for newborns and increases their chances of
retarded cognitive, especially verbal, development of
lowered educational achievement;
lowered job attainment as young adults;
increased behavior problems;
lowered impulse control (aggression and sexual behavior);
increased anti-social development. Together all these
effects help change their communities from being a support to being a
danger to the development of families and their children, and increases
the crime rate in their community.
Last year I and my colleague Robert Rector reviewed the literature
on the effects of divorce on children,2 and from the social
science literature we can clearly state that divorce increase the
national incidence of
\2\ Patrick F. Fagan and Robert R. Rector, ``The Effects of Divorce
on America'' The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #1373, June 5, 2000.
Decrease the Capacity to Learn
Decrease the Graduation Rates
Lower Income and Higher Incidences of Poverty
Adult and juvenile suicide
Harmful Mental and Physical Health Effects
Furthermore within family life divorce has the effect of increasing
the incidence of
Weaker parent-child relationships;
Destructive ways of handling conflict within the family;
Diminished social competency with peers;
A diminished sense of masculinity or femininity in
Increased premarital teenage sexual activity, number of
sexual partners during adolescence, and out-of-wedlock childbirths;
Higher numbers of children leaving home earlier, as well
as higher levels of cohabitation for these children; and--keeping the
Higher rates of divorce for the children of divorced
What States have not done
As others have testified and I have reviewed 3 the
states response to the breakdown of marriage has been minimal. Outside
those who have testified before this panel virtually nothing else has
been attempted by state legislatures or governors.
\3\ Patrick F. Fagan, ``Encouraging Marriage and Discouraging
Divorce'' The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #1421, March 26, 2001.
If we include all the monies spent or budgeted by the states that
have moved on this issue they amount to less than one cent spent to
shore up marriage for every thousand dollars spent to support single
parenthood though welfare.4 This pattern of spending is a
guaranteed way to expand the need for a bigger and bigger safety net as
marriage continues to break down more and more. And is hardly the
response Congress desired when in the TANF reform it urged states to
strengthen marriage and family life:
\4\ Total spent out on all TANF: average of $400 billion per year
for the last four years. The total amount spent to increase marriage or
reduce divorce in all 50 states over this period amounts to about $13
How the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 Encourages Marriage
Public Law 104-193, which block grants Temporary Assistance to
Needy Families funds to the states, encouraged the states to strengthen
marriage and reduce out-of-wedlock births by stipulating that:
The purpose [of this legislation] . . . is to increase the
flexibility of States in operating a program designed to:
(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be
cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives;
(2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by
promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
(3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies
and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the
incidence of these pregnancies; and
(4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent
\5\ Public Law 104-193, Section 401, Block Grants to States for
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (emphasis added).
What Federal Government can do to guide the states
This level of family breakdown is totally new in human history and
learning how to restore marriage is going to be one of societies
biggest tasks this coming decade, this coming century.
One overriding common sense rule is that all forms of penalty
against marriage, penalties put in place by the federal government over
decades, need to be substituted over time with marriage bonuses,
particularly for the poor. What was penalized by this body, unjustly
and to great national detriment, needs to be reversed.
However more concrete regulation of the states is in order on this
issue. Just as clear and unambiguous federal rules created the welfare
reform miracle that we have seen in this cycle, so too unambiguous and
clear guidelines are needed to strengthen marriage and help discourage
or minimize the desire for divorce.
A set proportion of TANF monies or a separate TANF budget for the
rebuilding of marriage among the poor or near poor needs to be
appropriated by Congress and then its spending needs to be guided in
much the same fashion as happened with TANF. However lessons from
Congress's efforts to reward states that reduced out of wedlock birth
need to be incorporated. By rewarding those states that had the
greatest drop in out of wedlock births without requiring a plan of
action to bring about the reduction Congress has rewarded some states
that have done nothing to deserve the rewards. They just happened to be
the lucky recipients of demographic changes that had nothing to do with
policy initiatives. In experimental psychology the behavior induced by
rewarding in this fashion is called ``superstition'', much as a gambler
who wins big on number ``26'' at the roulette table continues
thereafter to play ``26'' on his big bets.
New Offices of Marriage Initiatives
The federal government should move to create in each federal social
issue department (Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and
Urban Development, and Justice) an Office of Marriage Initiatives. It
would make sense for these offices to coordinate with each other,
because the main work of many of their sub-agencies is increased by the
breakdown of marriage: ill health, poverty, crime, and addictions. The
good news is that with success in figuring out how to promote marriage
and stabilize families the demand for services and the cost to the
taxpayer will drop over time. This is one of the few instances where
the success of a government social agency would cause a decrease in the
need for government.
For instance the HHS Office of Marriage Initiatives I propose the
A new agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services would coordinate the Administration's efforts to make all
federal social programs more marriage-friendly; bring attention to the
positive effects that increasing stable marriages will have on
decreasing demand for federal entitlements (which merely deal with the
effects of the breakdown of the family); and initiate ways to foster
marriage and decrease divorce, particularly among welfare recipients.
It would be funded by transferring monies from the following
entitlement programs: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF),
the Child Support Enforcement Program, and Family Planning Programs.
Create a new Office of Marriage Initiatives within the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children
and Families (ACF) to target TANF, Child Support Enforcement, Family
Planning, and other program dollars to pro-marriage initiatives with
the specific objective of reducing the rate of divorce and out-of-
wedlock births each by 30 percent, especially among welfare recipients,
within the next decade. Merge the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy and
Title V Office (abstinence programs) with this new Office so that their
programs contribute to the effort to rebuild the culture of marriage.
Allocate about 10 percent of the ACF budget for personnel and
discretionary programs to the new Office.
The cost to society from the breakdown of marriage is substantial.
According to one federal estimate, the cost of ``faltering child
development'' approaches $1 trillion a year.6 Much of this
can be attributed to the breakdown of marriage, since out-of-wedlock
births and divorce have been shown to feed the demand for welfare
services and to contribute to a multiplicity of social problems,
including poverty, crime, addiction, poor health, lower education
achievement, job instability, depression, and suicide.
\6\ Lackqueline L. Teague, Judy Thorne, Heather B. Luckey, and
Thomas J. Hoeger, ``Social Costs of Faltering Child Development, Final
Report,'' prepared by the Research Triangle Institute for the Centers
for Disease Control, April 1999.
The thinking and culture behind today's federal social programs
must be made more marriage-friendly. A sound social policy that targets
a portion of the federal budget to programs that reduce illegitimacy
and divorce would decrease the future demand for federal assistance and
entitlements. Setting aside at least 10 percent of the ACF budget to
help increase stable marriages and reduce the demand for federal
assistance is reasonable. This would leave 90 percent of the ACF's
funding for programs that deal with the effects of family breakdown.
Specifically, the new Office of Marriage Initiatives would:
Identify successful pro-marriage programs in operation and
disseminate its findings;
Design demonstration projects based on those findings;
Advise states on how to use surplus TANF monies to
increase marriage and decrease out-of-wedlock births and divorce;
Stimulate results-oriented curricula on marriage and
sexual abstinence in high school, with follow-up evaluations of their
Rebuild a federal-state system for gathering hard data and
statistics on marriage and divorce; and
Design research so that data are used to analyze how much
the increase in out-of-wedlock births and divorce over the past 30
years has cost the government, including the decrease in revenue
resulting from the effects of family breakdown.
Child Support Enforcement Programs
One federal program exists solely because of the breakdown in
marriage, the child support enforcement program.
The federal government has taken an increasingly large role in the
Child Support Enforcement system to locate absent parents, establish
paternity, obtain court orders for child support or modifications of
existing court orders, promote medical insurance for children under the
absent parent's plan, collect child support from non-compliant parents,
and enforce interstate payments of child support.
Total federal administrative expenditures for Child Support
Enforcement have increased steadily from $236 million in 1978 to $2.04
million in 1994.7 The total net federal cost of these
programs by FY 2001 is almost $2.22 billion.8 Payments to
the states for Child Support Enforcement are authorized under Titles I,
IV-D, X, XI, and XVI of the Social Security Act.9
\7\ 1998 Green Book: Background Material and Data on Programs
Within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means, WMCP-105-7,
[Report No. WMCP-105-7? Committee Print No. WMCP-105-7?] U.S. House of
Representatives, 105th Cong., 2nd Sess., May 19, 1998, p. 549.
\8\ Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States
Government, Fiscal Year 2001: Appendix, p. 463.
\9\ See P.L. 104-35 for the latest authorizations.
Transfer 10 percent of the Child Support Enforcement budget ($140
million in FY 2000) to the new Office of Marriage Initiatives to fund
efforts--including initiatives to reduce divorce and increase stable
marriages--that will reduce the future need for child support
Dedicate a portion of the remaining Child Support Enforcement funds
to training mediators in how to obtain more robust joint agreements to
ensure that both parents continue supporting their children and to
reduce the need to take delinquent parents to court, with special
attention to the track record of the Focused Thinking Mediation program
now in use in Southern Michigan's family courts.
Many other aspects of HHS functioning have parts that really ought
to be carried out in a marriage friendly office. The gathering and
rebuilding of the national statistics on marriage and divorce is one
such project that has always been the neglected program of the two
agencies that have housed it: The Bureau of the Census and then the
National Center for Health Statistics within the Center for Disease
Child and adult domestic abuse, foster care, and adoption all have
many correlates to marriage as the best situation in which to achieve
the desired ends. Yet marriage receives little to no attention in the
agencies that direct these programs.
The Department of Justice captures nothing, anywhere, in its
statistics gathering, on the relationship between family structure and
crime, not for juveniles or adults, despite the clear link of rates of
abuse and of crime, particularly juvenile crime, to different family
structures. The married family, we know from research other than that
from DOJ is the safest and best at raising children to avoid crime.
Similar patterns of data gathering hold for the Department of
Education,10 for HUD and likely for Interior as well.
\10\ Though this department has recently released a study that
confirms, in education outcomes, the superior contribution of married
family life for children. See: Christine Winquist Nord and Jerry West,
``Fathers and Mothers Involvement in their Children's Schools by Family
Type and Resident Status,'' National Center for Education Statistics,
Department of Education, May 2001.
As backing for these conclusions and recommendations I offer as
Appendix background a recent short study of the reviewing the
activities of states, localities, and private secular and religious
efforts to encourage marriage and discourage divorce.
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Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mr. Fagan. And now we will turn
to Ms. Kathryn Edin, Northwestern University. Ms. Edin?
STATEMENT OF KATHRYN EDIN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY,
INSTITUTE OF POLICY RESEARCH, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY,
Ms. Edin. I am an urban ethnographer. I go out and talk to
people. Between 1989 and the present, my colleagues and I have
conducted lengthy, multiple ethnographic interviews with well
over 300 low-income, single mothers, most of whom are either
TANF recipients, welfare recipients or have some welfare
history. Overall, the majority that we spoke to did aspire to
marriage, but many felt that marriage offered more risks than
rewards. Our interviews revealed four reasons single mothers
may be hesitant to marry.
First, affordability--for the mothers we spoke to, economic
stability was a necessary, but not sufficient condition for
marriage. This does not mean, however, that the mothers we
interviewed do not often deeply care about the men in their
lives. One woman said, ``There was a struggle going on inside
of me. I mean, he lost his job at the auto body shop and then
he couldn't find another one. I was trying to live on my
welfare check and it just wasn't enough. Finally, I couldn't do
it anymore, because it was too much pressure on me, even though
he is the love of my life. I told him he had to leave even
though I knew it wasn't really his fault that he wasn't
working. But, I had nothing in the house to feed the kids, no
money to pay the bills, nothing. I could not take it, so I made
Second, respectability--many Americans believe the marriage
norm no longer operates within poor communities. They think
that poor people think too little of marriage. Our
conversations with low-income, single mothers revealed the
opposite. They avoid marriage, in part, because they think too
much of it. In these communities marriage has a kind of sacred
significance and is a powerful marker of respectability.
However, it only confers respectability if accompanied by
financial stability and some measure of upward mobility. One
woman says, ``I want to get married. I have always wanted to
get married and have a family. My baby's father, he's doing
pretty good economically, but I'm not going to get married
until we save up enough money to buy an acre of land and
finance a trailer. Then we will marry.''
Others often talked about the sacred nature of marriage and
felt that entering into a union that would almost certainly
collapse under economic strain would be quote, ``a sacrilege.''
This reflects the strong belief of many that marriage should be
Third, trust--the substantial minority of our respondents
say they have given up on marriage. This is more because of
their low view of the men they know, than because they reject
institution of marriage itself. Women tend to believe men are
untrustworthy in several respects. For example, they fear that
the men will not or even cannot be sexually faithful. When
women says, ``Maybe I will find a good person to get married
to, someone to be a stepfather to my son. They are not all bad.
There are three things in my life; my school, my work and my
son, not men. At first they love you, and then they think
you're beautiful, and then they leave for another woman. My
father is like that. He has kids by several different women. I
hate him for it. I say I hate you, why do you do that? Why?''
Another fear is that men will be irresponsible with the
money. One woman told me, ``I gave my children's father the
money to go buy some Pampers. He went down some street with his
cousin and they were down partying and drinking, and he spent
my son's Pampers money on partying.'' Additionally, mothers
sometimes do not trust men with their children. We heard
stories about men who leave their children home alone, drink
heavily or smoke crack in front of the kids, neglect to feed or
otherwise care for them, or even physically or sexually abuse
them. One women summed it up as follows, ``Men can say, `Well,
honey, I'm going out for the night.' '' And then they disappear
for 2 months, whereas the mother has a deeper commitment,
conscience or compassion. If women acted like men, our kid
would be in the park, left. We would say somebody else is going
to take care of it. Everybody would be orphaned.
Finally, fourth, the stalled sexual revolution at home--
having a child often times reveals competencies mothers did not
know they possessed, yet they are hard pressed to get the men
in their lives to respect these competencies. They think men
try to take power away from women and try to be in control of
all the decisions, and since they do not trust men, this lack
of control is very frightening. Most mothers want a partnership
of equals. They believe the best way to achieve this is to make
sure they are contributing financially to the household economy
and will have something to fall back on if the relationship
goes bad. As one women told us, ``I want to have a nice job so
I know if he walked out, I have something to fall back on. The
mortgage and everything else is going to be in my name. That is
how I want it to be. I do want to get married, but I'm going to
get myself stabilized and get everything together with me and
my daughter before I take that route.''
I take three lessons from this data. Number one, it is true
that most low-income women do aspire to marriage. Two, but it
is on their terms. They want some level of social mobility and
economic stability. They will marry provided the husband
doesn't fool around with other women, mismanage the money,
neglect or abuse their children or beat them. Domestic violence
was quite common with the women we interviewed. They also do
not want to make all the decisions and they want him to respect
their competencies. Unless low-skilled men's economic
situations improve and they begin to change their behaviors
toward women, it is quite likely that large numbers of low-
income women will continue to resist marriage.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Edin follows:]
Statement of Kathryn Edin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology,
Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston,
Scholars currently hold four different theories of non-marriage.
First, Gary Becker and others point to the increasing economic
independence of women. This theory holds that as women have become
better able to support themselves economically, they need marriage
less. However, the data seem to show that for low income women, those
most likely to be affected by welfare reform, the opposite seems to be
true: for this group, the probability of marriage increases with a
Second, William Julius Wilson and others have looked at the
phenomenon from the other side of the relationship and assume that a
man must be stably employed in order to marry. Indeed, the last 30
years have seen huge declines in the earnings of unskilled and
semiskilled men, but the decline in marriage is simply much greater
than this approach would predict.
Third, Charles Murray and others blame welfare, arguing that as
welfare became more generous, women were increasingly likely to trade
dependence on a man for dependence on the government, or to combine the
two by opting to live together rather than marry. However, since the
1970s welfare benefits have declined dramatically in real terms, while
non-marriage has continued to increase.
Finally, some point to cultural factors, such as the revolution in
sex roles that have changed the views of women. Men, especially low-
income men, have been slower to change their views, resulting in a
mismatch in the sex role expectations of low-income men and women. But
no study I know of has looked directly at how changes in sex role
expectations have influenced marriage rates per se.
So, we are left with more questions than answers. How do low-income
single mothers feel about marriage? What factors do they believe
prevent them from marrying? To what extent does the marriage norm still
operate in poor communities?
Between 1989 and the present, my colleagues and I conducted lengthy
multiple ethnographic interviews and observations of well over 300 low-
income single mothers living in the poorer areas of three cities:
Chicago, Charleston, SC, and Philadelphia. About half of these mothers
were receiving cash welfare when we talked with them and about half
worked at low wage jobs. Overall, the interviews show that the majority
of mothers aspire to marriage. However, they also feel that, given the
relationships they've been in or are currently in, marriage may offer
more risks that rewards. Our interviews reveal four major motives for
non-marriage: affordability, respectability, trust, and control.
Mothers do believe they can diminish these risks if they find the
right man, and they define rightness in both economic and non-economic
terms. In sum, they say they are willing and even eager to wed if the
marriage represents substantial upward mobility and if their husband
doesn't beat them, abuse their children, insist on making all the
decisions, or ``fool around'' with other women. If they cannot find
such a man, most would rather remain single and raise their children
Let's now consider each of these motivations in turn.
For the mothers we spoke to, economic stability was a necessary,
though not sufficient, condition for marriage.
Men simply don't earn enough to support a family. This leads
to couples breaking up.
As my book with Laura Lein showed, welfare reliant and low-wage
working mothers worry a lot about money simply because they have to.
The price for not balancing their budgets is high: the stability of the
household and the well-being of their children.
Though we found that men frequently contribute cash and in kind
goods to single mothers' households, their employment is so unstable
that single mothers often feel that they cannot count on these
contributions. Therefore, mothers' consistent need for supplemental
income, combined with men's erratic employment and earnings, mean that
couples often break up over money or fail to marry because of it.
I've been with my baby's father for almost 10 years . . .
He's talking marriage, but what I'm trying to do now is get
away from him. He just lost his job . . . [of] 18 years. [Now]
he's in work, out of work, then in work again. . . . I can do
bad by myself. I don't need no one helping me [do bad].
However, mothers aren't completely cold and calculating in this
regard. Not only do they value the AMOUNT of money a man could
potentially contribute to the household and its STABILITY, they also
value the EFFORT men expend to find and keep employment. However, in
the end, their dire economic straits generally mean that they must
enforce a ``pay and stay'' rule.
I didn't want to be mean or anything [but when he didn't
work], I didn't let him eat my food. I would tell him, ``If you
can't put any food here, you can't eat here. There are your
kids and you should want to help your kids, so if you come
here, you can't eat their food.'' Finally, I told him he
couldn't stay here either.
This doesn't mean that the women we interviewed don't often care
deeply about the men in their lives.
There was a struggle going on inside of me. I mean, he lost
his job at the auto body shop when they went [bankrupt] and
closed down. Then he couldn't find another one. It it was
months and months, and I was trying to live on my welfare check
and it just wasn't enough. Finally, I couldn't do it anymore
[because] it was just too much pressure on me [even though] he
is the love of my life. I told him he had to leave even though
I knew it wasn't really his fault that [he wasn't working]. But
I had nothing in the house to feed the kids, no money to pay
the bills, nothing. And he was just sitting there not working.
I couldn't take it, so I made him leave.
Mothers also value the SOURCE of the money a man brings into the
household. In general, drug money cannot buy marriage or even long term
co-residence. In fact, it is often fathers' entry involvement with the
drug trade that breaks couples up. Mothers are afraid that such a man
might stash weapons, drugs, or drug proceeds on the premises, and that
the violence of street life might follow him into the household. The
mothers generally believe that anyone who is involved in the drug trade
for long will go jail or get killed, leaving their children fatherless,
at least for a time. They also believe that most men who deal will
start ``using product'' himself, rendering any kind of sustainable
family life impossible.
I'm frustrated with men, period. Hey bring drugs and guns
into the house, you take care of their kids, feed them, and
then they steal your rent money out of your purse. They screw
you if you put yourself out for them. So now, I don't put
myself out there any more.
Many Americans believe the marriage norm no longer operates within
poor communities because the resident think too little of marriage. Our
conversations with low-income single mothers revealed the opposite:
they avoid marriage because they think too much of it. In these
communities, marriage has a kind of sacred significance, and is a
powerful marker of respectability. However, it only confers
respectability if accompanied by financial stability and some measure
of upward mobility. Marriage to an unskilled, erratically employed man
doesn't confer respectability, but makes one a fool in the eyes of the
Since most women in these communities believe strongly marriage
should be for life, and since women in our society still seem to borrow
their class standing from their husbands, marriage to a partner with
low or unstable earnings means that the women is willing to take on his
very low status as her own for life. By doing so, the woman is making a
profound statement to her community (and to herself) that, ``this is
the best I can do.'' For most women living in poverty, giving up all
hope of eventual upward mobility in exchange for marriage to a poor
man, even if she is just as poor as him, is simply too hard a road to
contemplate traveling. Thus, it is not surprising that most women in
the same situation want to marry up or not at all.
I just want [a marriage] that will take me up to where I want
I want a big wedding. I want to be set--out of school, nave a
career, and then go from there. . . . Yeah, my friends that
have children, my one girlfriend, she wants to get a house
first and be ready with that and then decide.
I want to get married. I've always wanted to get married and
have a family. [My baby's father,] he is doing pretty good, but
I am not going to marry him until . . . we get some land.
[After that, we'll] start off with a trailer, live in that for
about 10 years, and then build a dream house (a dream house in
Charleston, SC, where this interview took place, often meant a
trailer with a brick facade and a chain link fence). But I am
not going to get married [now] and pay rent to someone else.
When we save up enough money to [buy] an acre of land and [can
finance] a trailer, then we'll marry.
Mothers often talked about the ``sacred'' nature of marriage, and
believed that no ``respectable'' woman would marry a poor man--such
marriages were even sometimes described as ``sacrilege.'' In interview
after interview, mothers stressed the seriousness of marriage and their
belief that ``it should last forever.'' Even if she were to contemplate
marriage to an unskilled erratically employed man for love, she knew
full well that it would likely collapse under economic strain, making a
mockery of the social institution she revered. In such circumstances,
it is more respectable to remain single and hope for a respectable
match in the future.
Thus, it is not that mothers hold marriage in low esteem, but
rather the fact that they hold it in such high esteem, that convinces
them to forgo marriage, at least until their prospective marriage
partner can prove himself economically worthy, or they find another
partner who can. To these mothers, marriage is a powerful symbol of
respectability and should not be diluted by foolish unions.
Though a substantial minority our respondents said they'd given up
on marriage, this is more because of their low view of the men they
know than because they reject the institution of marriage itself. Women
tend to believe men are untrustworthy in several respects.
First, they fear that the men will not (or even cannot) be sexually
faithful. Though many women view infidelity as almost inevitable, they
are not willing to accept it as a natural part of marriage. Women often
say the best way to avoid being deceived by an unfaithful spouse is to
either avoid marriage altogether (being cheated on by a boyfriend
entails less loss of face) or delaying marriage while observing and
evaluating a potential spouse's behavior over time.
Living with [a man] would be fine. If after I lived with him
for a couple of years and I see that nothings gonna change in
the relationship, then maybe I'll marry him. But he's gotta be
somebody that's got [enough] money to take care of me.
All those reliable guys, they are gone, they are gone.
They're either thinking about one of three things: another
woman, another man, or dope. . . . [M]y motto is ``there is not
a man on this planet that is faithful.'' It's a man thing. I
don't care, you can love your wife 'til she turns three shades
of avocado green. A man is gonna be a man and it's not a point
of a woman getting upset about it. It's a point of a woman
accepting it. 'Cause a man's gonna do what a man's gonna do. .
. . [Other] black women, they say ``once you find a man that's
gonna be faithful, you go ahead and get married to him.''
[They] got it all wrong. Then they gonna [be surprised when
they find out] he ain't faithful. And the wife gonna end up in
a nut house. It's better not to get married, so you don't get
your expectations up.
I would like to find a nice man to marry, but I know that men
cannot be trusted. That's why I treat them the way I do--like
the dogs they are. I think that all men will cheat on their
wives regardless of how much he loves her. And you don't ever
want to be in that position.
I've been a single parent since the day my husband walked out
on me. He tried to come back but I am not one to let someone
hurt me and my children twice. I am living on welfare [rather
than living with him].
Maybe I'll find a good person to get married to, someone to
be a stepfather to my son. They're not all the same, they're
not all bad. There are three things in my life; my school, my
work, and my son. Not men. At first they love you, they think
you're beautiful, and then they leave. When I got pregnant, he
just left. My father is like that. He has kids by several
different women. I hate him for it. I say, ``I hate you. Why do
you do that? Why?''
A second fear is that men will be irresponsible with the family's
I gave my child's father the money to go buy my son's
Pampers. He went on some street with his cousin [and] they were
down there partying, drinking, everything. He spent my son's
Pamper money [on partying].
Since mothers understand that a married couple has joint
responsibility for either party's debt, unmarried partners need not
assume such responsibility. In considering marriage, mothers often
begin to demand financial accountability, which not only ensures that
the bills get paid but also makes it harder for him to maintain a
relationship with a woman on the side. Not surprisingly, a prospective
husband resents her lack of trust and does not always comply, thus
behaving in ways that confirm her fears.
Third, mothers sometimes do not trust men with their children. We
heard many stories about men who leave their children home alone, drink
heavily or smoke crack in front of them, neglect to feed or otherwise
care for them, or even physically or sexually abuse them.
I let him take them down the shore. He got into a fight with
his girlfriend, beat her up, got locked up. I didn't know where
my kids were [and] I didn't find out until 9:00 [the next
Men can say, ``Well honey, I'm going out for the night. And
then they disappear for two months. Whereas, the mother has a
deeper commitment, conscience, or compassion. . . . If [women]
acted like men, our kids would be in the park, left. We'd say,
``Oh, somebody else is going to take care if it.'' Everybody
would be orphaned.
While the experience of parenthood straightens out the lives of
many women, they feel it does so less often and less dramatically for
He's 25, but he still likes to run the streets and go out
with his friends all the time. I just can't be bothered with
Sometimes men don't grow up as fast as women. He's still a
kid in part--a kid, period, to be honest with you.
They're stupid. They're still little boys. You think you can
get one and mold him into a man, [but] they turn out to be
assholes. All men are. They're good for one thing and one thing
only, and it ain't supporting me.
The sharp mistrust voiced above is often quite slow to develop. In
fact, many of the men these women had children with were, at one time,
the loves of their lives. For unmarried couples, it is often during the
pregnancy that the mistrust begins.
That first stage of me being pregnant was so stressful. . . .
He would call up [and say that] I was cheatin' on him and it
wasn't his baby. I went through that whole [pregnancy with him
calling me a] cheater.
He started really beating me up [so I learned not to trust
him]. I was pregnant and he beat the shit out of me . . . I
must have been like four, five months pregnant. . . . By then I
had a belly. . . . He's on top of me--a grown six-foot-two man,
205 pounds, [and] I'm five feet and maybe 120 pounds because of
the fact that I was pregnant--him on top of me, beating me up,
punching me, hitting me. And I got a belly with his child.
The relationships between these couples deteriorate partly because,
as the women's pregnancy advances, her sense of what the baby will need
materially grows more concrete. Though an intermittently employed
boyfriend might have had adequate income to play the role of boyfriend,
a pregnant girlfriend quickly realizes that these meager earnings
cannot support a family. A young man who may have been completely
acceptable to her six months prior is suddenly viewed as ``no good'' by
his girlfriend, even when his behavior may not have changed.
Mothers often describe a golden period in their relationship with
the child's father at the moment their child is born. Often, the father
comes to the hospital during or just after the birth, and the couple
renews their desire to stay together and perhaps marry. However, the
new mothers, who must immediately begin to deal with the practical
demands of raising the child, again places increased financial demands
on the father.
That's when everything started blowing up. I didn't wanna be
with him no more cause he wasn't working and he was getting on
my nerves. . . . He just never gave me no money. I would tell
him, you know, ``Well, the baby needs diapers.'' ``Well, I
don't have no money.'' ``The baby needs milk.'' ``Well, I don't
have no money.'' I just started getting mad. I had to buy milk
and diapers so I just told him to leave me alone.
Fathers in tight economic straits grow increasingly resentful and
the relationship quickly deteriorates--sometimes within days of the
birth. Many of the same men that had talked of romance and marriage at
the hospital often deny they are the father of the child soon after.
They accuse their baby's mother of ``stepping out,'' ``sleeping
around,'' or ``whoring'' behind their back. Some demand a blood test
before buying anything for the baby. Not surprisingly, mistrust
When we asked mothers about the benefits of being single, many told
us they enjoyed the control it offered. Some mothers who had been
married had been completely dependent on a man and had forgone
investments in human capital that might have resulted in higher wages.
The period of economic shock and near-destitution that often followed
the marital breakup was devastating, and every inch of economic
independence they were enjoying at present had been hard won. These
lessons convince many that it is not safe to be completely dependent on
One guy was like, ``Marry me, I want a baby.'' I don't want
to have to depend on anybody. No way, I would rather work. [If
I married him and had his baby], I'd [have to quit work and] be
dependent again. It's too scary.''
For never-married mothers, the story is different. Some learn these
hard lessons through observing their own mothers or their female kin,
whose boyfriends or husbands beat them, cheated on then, abused their
children, or ``[drank] or smok[ed] up their paychecks.'' For others,
enrollment in the school of hard knocks occurred during the pregnancy
or shortly after the birth, as I described earlier. For a mother,
having a child often reveals competencies they did not know they
possessed. Yet, they are hard pressed to get the man in their lives to
respect these competencies. Rather, they try to take power away from
women and be in control of the household decisions. UNMARRIED male
partners are on their best behavior because they know they are on
trial, and fear that their female partners will end the relationship if
they behave badly. Women like this control over the men's behavior, and
are afraid marriage will change all that.
[Men] think that piece of paper says they own you. You are
their personal slave. Cook their meals, clean their house, do
their laundry. Who did it before I came along, you know? That's
why they get married. A man gets married to have somebody take
care of them 'cause their mommy can't do it any more.
Most mothers don't want to be owned or slave for their husband.
They want a partnership of equals. Many believe that they best way to
maintain power in a relationship is to make sure they are contributing
financially to the household economy and have something to fall back on
if the relationship goes bad.
[For me, marriage] will be me and my husband [both] working.
We both work, [while] the children are in school.
A good marriage from the woman's point of view is one where she
contributes financially and can have a say in the decision-making. The
greater her financial contributions, the more say she believes she is
entitled to. Since mothers generally believe that childbearing and the
early child-rearing years mandate at least a partial withdrawal from
the labor market, they equate the early child-rearing years with
relational vulnerability. A marriage that occurs prior to or during the
prime family buildings years, when the mother is least able to
contribute financially to the household, leaves a mother quite
powerless in her relationship with her husband. Waiting to marry until
all of the children are in school (or even out on their own) means that
mothers can focus more of their energies on market work and increase
their chances of entering into a marriage relationship with more
control. These marriages, they feel, are likely to be more satisfying
and sustainable over time.
I want to have a nice job, [so] that I know if he walked out
I have something to fall back on. The mortgage [and] everything
[else] is going to be in my name. That's how I want it to be .
. . I do want to get married, but I'm going to get my self
stabilized and get everything together with me and [my
daughter] before I even take that route.
In sum, the low-income single mothers we spoke with believe that
marriage will probably make their lives more difficult. Though most
aspire to marriage eventually, they do not, by and large, perceive any
special stigma to remaining single. If they cannot enjoy economic
stability and respectability from marriage, they see little reason to
expose themselves or their children to a man's irresponsible or even
abusive behavior, or to risk the loss of control over their lives they
fear marriage might exact from them. Unless low-skilled men's economic
situations improve and they begin to change their behaviors toward
women, it is quite likely that large numbers of low-income women will
continue to resist marriage.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Ms. Edin, for your testimony;
and now Ms. Laurie Rubiner, of the National Partnership for
Women and Families. Ms. Rubiner?
STATEMENT OF LAURIE RUBINER, VICE PRESIDENT, PROGRAM & PUBLIC
POLICY, NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR WOMEN & FAMILIES
Ms. Rubiner. Thank you very much. Good afternoon, Chairman
Herger and Congressman Cardin and other distinguished Members
of the Subcommittee. I am pleased to present to have the
opportunity to present testimony this afternoon on marriage and
welfare reform. If we are truly committed to helping people out
of poverty, then our public policy should be directed at
providing real supports to those who are actually living in
poverty. Such assistance should be provided not based upon
family formation, but rather upon the needs of the family and
the adult's willingness to follow the rules we have established
for receiving aid.
The mission of welfare reform should be to reduce poverty
and help people achieve economic independence, not to engage in
social engineering or discrimination against families that do
not meet a particular ideal about family composition, nor
should welfare reform legislation be used as a vehicle to
punish families who fail to conform to our individual views of
what a family should or should not be. We should learn from our
past welfare policy that attempts to influence family formation
can backfire. It is essential that welfare policies are
developed with a primary focus on providing assistance and
supports to all eligible families in need and not just a
Some have suggested that married couples should be given
preferential treatment in the distribution of scarce welfare
benefits, under the theory that this will encourage people to
get married. Such a policy would be misguided. First, there is
no conclusive evidence that links increased welfare benefits to
increased marriage rates. Second, to give preference to
families solely because they are comprised of a married couple
with children discriminates against those who are not married,
but are working hard and playing by the rules.
Consider the example of Elizabeth Jones in Katharine Boo's
recent article in The New Yorker magazine. Ms. Jones followed
the rules of the 1996 welfare reform law. She left welfare and
got not one, but two jobs to care for her three children. She
sleeps 4 hours a night. Even with a day job as a D.C. police
officer and a night job in private security, she still cannot
afford child care. So her school-age children are left to care
for each other after school in a dangerous D.C. neighborhood.
While Ms. Jones may be in the success column of those welfare
recipients who have moved into financial independence, it is
hard to understand how anyone, after reading her story, could
not agree that scarce welfare resources should be used to help
her get the kind of support that we know would help, such as
quality affordable child care, health insurance and
If marriage were only about economics, then policies that
provide financial incentives for people to get married would be
appropriate, but a successful marriage is a much more
complicated equation, and a marriage license is not a winning
lottery ticket. Rather than simply promoting marriage as a
quick-fix economic solution, we ought to be focused on helping
individuals make responsible decisions about their
relationships and their lives. In addition, studies have found
that significant percentages of welfare clients are victims of
domestic violence and may turn to TANF to help escape an
It is wrong to promote policies that make women choose
between supporting their children or returning to their
abusers. Rather than focusing merely on getting individuals
married, regardless of whether there is a solid foundation, our
focus ought to be on what it takes to make those marriages
work. It should come as no surprise that low-income women want
the same kinds of marriages that we want for ourselves and our
children, and that they prefer to remain single rather than
enter into an unstable, unsuitable or abusive marriage.
There are millions of hardworking, single-parent families
without adequate resources. The number of single-parent
families is growing at a faster rate than married couple
families, confirming that the concept of what constitutes a
family is changing. We ought to do whatever we can to
strengthen family bonds, including where grandparents and other
relatives are struggling to keep families together. Our efforts
should be informed about what we have learned about policies
that work and policies that do not work.
We already know from our previous efforts at welfare policy
that we have to exercise care in constructing policies that may
impact family composition. To the extent that the old Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) law may have resulted
in a disincentive to marry, we ought not repeat those same
mistakes. I am not here to condemn marriage. It is precisely
out of respect for what the institution of marriage should be
that I reject the outdated notion that a woman's only route out
of poverty is a walk down the aisle. I urge you not to allow a
discussion about marriage to divert attention from the task at
hand, adopting concrete, comprehensive policies to provide all
families in poverty with the support they need to make a
permanent transition from welfare to economic security.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Rubiner follows:]
Statement of Laurie Rubiner, Vice President for Program & Public
Policy, National Partnership for Women & Families
Good afternoon, Chairman Herger, Congressman Cardin, and other
distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am Laurie Rubiner, Vice
President for Program & Public Policy at the National Partnership for
Women and Families. I am pleased to have the opportunity to present
testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human
Resources on marriage and welfare reform. The National Partnership for
Women & Families is a non-profit advocacy organization that has worked
since 1971 to ensure fairness in the workplace, and to help women and
men at all income levels balance their work and family obligations.
If we are truly committed to helping people out of poverty, then
our public policies should be directed at providing real supports to
those who are living in poverty. Such assistance should be provided not
based upon family composition but rather upon the needs of the family
and the adults' willingness to follow the rules we have established for
receiving aid. The mission of welfare reform should be to reduce
poverty and help people achieve economic independence, not to engage in
social engineering or discrimination against families that don't meet a
particular ideal about family composition. Nor should welfare reform
legislation be used as a vehicle to punish families who fail to conform
to our individual views of what a family should or should not be. We
should learn from our past welfare policy that attempts to influence
family formation can backfire.
Legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF) program must be grounded in several, central guiding
principles: all eligible families in need who follow program rules must
be treated fairly and have equal access to assistance; welfare policies
must help all types of families move out of poverty; and welfare
policies must be designed to provide a wide variety of supports that
can promote strong, healthy families.
I. Welfare policies must be designed with the goal of providing
assistance to all eligible families in need
It is essential that welfare policies are developed with a primary
focus on providing assistance and supports to all eligible families in
need and not just a favored few. Some have suggested that married
couples should be given preferential treatment in the distribution of
scarce welfare benefits, under the theory that this will encourage
people to get married. Such a policy would be misguided. First, there
is no conclusive evidence that links increased marriage rates to
increased welfare benefits. Second, to give preference to families
solely because they are comprised of a married couple with children
discriminates against those who are not married, but are working hard
and playing by the rules.
Consider the example of Elizabeth Jones in Katherine Boos' recent
article about moving from welfare to work in the New Yorker
Magazine.\1\ Ms. Jones followed the rules of the 1996 welfare reform
law. She left welfare and got not one, but two jobs to care for her
three children. She sleeps four hours a night. Even with a day job as a
D.C. police officer and a night job in private security she still can't
make ends meet. Meanwhile, because she can't afford child care, her
school-age children are left to care for themselves after school in a
rundown apartment in a dangerous D.C. neighborhood. And, while Ms.
Jones may be in the ``success'' column of welfare recipients who have
moved into financial independence, it is hard to understand how anyone
after reading her story could not agree that scarce welfare resources
should be used to help her get the kinds of supports that we know help
families like the Joneses, such as quality affordable childcare, health
insurance and transportation.
\1\ Boo, Katherine. ``After Welfare.'' The New Yorker, 9 April
In distributing our limited resources we must begin with the
reality of who is living in poverty and in need of assistance. The face
of poverty in the United States is diverse:
Nearly 6.7 million families, consisting of 23.4 million
individuals, were living in poverty in 1999--half were black or
53% were families headed by single female heads of
7% were families headed by single male heads of
households, and 40% were married couples;
88% of single-headed households were headed by women;
almost 62% of these female-headed families with children living in
poverty were headed by black or Hispanic women.\2\
\2\ U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, Series P60-210,
Poverty in the United States: 1999, Table B-3 (Washington: Government
Printing Office, 2000).
While there has been important progress in reducing poverty rates,
there clearly is more work to do. There are a wide range of
strategies--from ensuring access to quality education and training, to
job creation, to increasing Medicaid enrollment and providing
affordable health care, to expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit--
that collectively can and should be pursued to help more families
achieve economic security. Any serious efforts to develop sound,
effective welfare policies must have as their central goal a commitment
to serving all eligible families in need.
It is particularly crucial to pay special attention to the needs of
families facing unique hurdles, such as families stuck at the bottom of
the economic ladder, welfare clients with limited English proficiency
or disabilities, and clients with multiple barriers to employment.
Poverty has deepened for the poorest 20% of female-headed families and
many are worse off today than they were six years ago. Recent data, for
example, indicates that between 1995 and 1999 the inflation-adjusted
disposable income of female-headed families with the lowest incomes
actually declined by 4 percent.\3\ Many clients with limited English
proficiency have been unable to get the services they need because they
cannot get accurate information about their program in other
languages.\4\ Many clients with disabilities have been shut out of
training or job opportunities because their disability has not been
assessed or adequately accommodated.\5\
\3\ Wendell Primus, What Next for Welfare Reform A Vision for
Assisting Families, Brookings Review (Summer 2001). For a discussion of
earlier research, see Wendell Primus, Lynette Rawlings, Kathy Larin,
and Kathryn Porter, The Initial Impacts of Welfare Reform on the
Incomes of Single-Mother Families (Washington: Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities, August 1999). See also Ron Haskins, Isabel Sawhill,
and Kent Weaver, Welfare Reform Reauthorization: An Overview of
Problems and Issues (Washington: The Brookings Institution, January
2001) (finding that ``while the overall poverty rate has dropped
consistently since 1995, the rate of families in deep poverty (which is
below half the federal poverty level) has actually increased'').
\4\ For example, the Department of Health and Human Services Office
for Civil Rights (HHS-OCR) found that New York unlawfully discriminated
against Hispanic clients by frequently denying interpreter assistance,
requiring clients to bring their own interpreters to appointments,
failing to have bilingual staff at some offices, and lacking basic
information for clients in different languages. Docket No. 02-99-3130,
HHS OCR Region II, OCR Determination, October 21, 1999.
\5\ For example, the Department of Health and Human Services Office
for Civil Rights (HHS-OCR) in Massachusetts found that the state TANF
agency discriminated against two clients with learning disabilities
because it failed to conduct adequate client assessments or provide
sufficient services for disabled clients. Complaint No. 01-98-3055, HHS
OCR Region I, OCR Determination, January 19, 2001. See Tina Cassidy,
``US Faults State, Says it Discriminated Against 2 Cites Case Involving
Impaired Woman,'' Boston Globe, 23 January 2001, at B1; see also Ramos
v. McIntire, Civil Action No. 98-2154E (Mass. Superior Court, Suffolk
Cty., Aug. 25, 1998).
Still other welfare clients face a combination of employment
barriers--limited opportunities to acquire education or build skills,
unreliable childcare, mental and physical health problems, and lack of
transportation--that together make it even more difficult to leave
welfare and achieve some level of economic security.\6\ A research
study by the University of Michigan of welfare clients in an urban
Michigan county found that multiple employment barriers--such as low
education, lack of job skills, lack of transportation, health problems,
perceived discrimination, and domestic violence--were common: 37% of
clients reported having two or three different employment barriers, 24%
reported having four to six barriers, and 3% reported having 7 or more
barriers.\7\ And increasingly many low-income fathers are struggling to
acquire new skills and find and retain jobs. All of these clients have
unique needs that require focused, targeted strategies--such as
offering English as a Second Language classes, or training programs for
non-traditional, higher-paying careers. Most importantly, it is
critical that we do not create policies that pit different groups
against each other to compete for much-needed services. Low-income
mothers and low-income fathers who are underemployed or unemployed both
need access to education and training--and we should take steps to make
sure that both can have access to the services they need.
\6\ For example, see National Partnership for Women & Families,
Detours on the Road to Employment Obstacles Facing Low-Income Women,
October 1999 (describing various employment barriers facing non-welfare
and welfare clients).
\7\ Danziger, Sandra, et al. Barriers to Employment of Welfare
Recipients (Ann Arbor, MI: Poverty Research & Training Center, July
1999) (revised version February 2000).
II. We must concentrate on developing policies that support and promote
strong, healthy families
A. Coercive policies that promote certain types of families
ultimately will do more harm than good
Coercive policies designed to promote certain types of family
structures at the expense of others, particularly children, will do
more to undermine families than strengthen them. We ought not to
desecrate the ideal of marriage by ``paying people to get married,''
nor should we endorse policies that penalize families that are most in
need because they do not conform to a preferred family structure. If
marriage were only about economics, and the road out of poverty were as
simple as a walk down the aisle then policies that provide financial
incentives to people to get married would be appropriate. But a
successful marriage is a much more complicated equation, with more than
one variable, and a marriage license is not a winning lottery ticket.
Kathryn Edin's study of marriage among low-income women reveals that
they look for the same things the rest of us look for in a mate.\8\
Yes, they want someone with a stable income, but they also want
kindness, partnership, respect, emotional support, and a good father
for their children. It should come as no surprise that low-income women
want the same kinds of marriages that we want for ourselves and our
children and that they prefer to remain single than enter into an
unstable, unsuitable, or abusive marriage.
\8\ Edin, Kathryn. ``Few Good Men: Why Poor Women Don't Remarry.''
The American Prospect, 11.4 (2000).
Rather than simply promoting marriage as a ``quick-fix'' economic
solution, we ought to be focused on helping individuals make sound,
reasonable, responsible decisions about their relationships and their
lives, so that if they do choose to get married the marriage will be
stable and will be less likely to end in divorce. Helping to equip
individuals to make the right choices ultimately can help strengthen
both marriages and families. If our sole focus is on making a family
look the way we want it to look, then we risk ignoring important pieces
of the equation that can impact whether families grow together and get
stronger or fall apart.
Most importantly, marriage should not be used as a band-aid to cure
other, more complicated problems. Many clients have turned to TANF as a
source of critical support as they try to address difficult problems
such as domestic violence or a family health crisis. Several different
research studies have found, for example, that significant percentages
of welfare clients are victims of domestic violence. A study of a
scientific sampling of 734 female welfare clients in Massachusetts
found that 19.5% reported current physical violence and 64% reported
experiencing domestic violence at some point as an adult.\9\ Similar
research involving 846 female welfare clients in Passaic County, New
Jersey found that nearly 14.6% reported current physical abuse, 25%
reported verbal or emotional abuse, and 57.3% reported physical abuse
at some point during adulthood.\10\ Women who have been in abusive
relationships and who need TANF assistance to be able to escape their
abusers should not be penalized for trying to take control of their
lives and create a safer and emotionally sound environment for their
children. Forcing them to get married will only exacerbate their
problems. To promote policies that put women, or any low-income
individual, in the position of having to choose between financial
support for their children or remaining in an abusive or destructive
situation is wrong and not good policy. And it will do little to create
the strong, healthy families that we claim to support.
\9\ Jody Raphael and Richard M. Tolman, Trapped by Poverty/Trapped
by Abuse: New Evidence Documenting the Relationship Between Welfare and
Domestic Violence (Chicago & Ann Arbor: Project for Research on
Welfare, Work, and Domestic Violence, April 1997).
In the long term, helping to equip individuals with the skills and
judgment needed to make the right decisions about their families, and
effectively manage their work and family responsibilities is the best
strategy for fostering strong/healthy families, strong/healthy
marriages, and strong/healthy relationships.
In crafting policies, there a number of factors to keep in mind:
Protections for victims of domestic violence, child abuse,
or other forms of abuse. Clients should not be forced or coerced into
remaining in unhealthy, abusive relationships because they are unable
to receive TANF assistance. Clients who face these types of problems
should be able to get TANF assistance and other supports, and they
should not be excluded from certain types of benefits because they are
not married. Privacy protections are essential to ensure that clients
can share sensitive information without fear of putting themselves and
their families at risk, but also to ensure that clients are not forced
to navigate cumbersome requirements to establish that they are victims
of domestic violence or other forms of abuse.
Education and counseling on responsible decision-making
and sustaining healthy relationships. Education programs, primarily
targeted at youth, that focus on making responsible choices, entering
into healthy relationships, and understanding the family situations
that offer the best chance for children's growth and success can help
clients to be informed and thoughtful about the choices they make and
the consequences of those choices.
Efforts to remove penalties to marriage. Individuals
should not be paid to get married, but they should not be penalized if
they get married. Welfare policies should be neutral on the subject of
family formation and instead target resources where they are most
Voluntary participants. Clients must not be forced to
marry as a condition to receive benefits; clients must not be coerced
into special ``marriage incentive programs'' by dangling the promise of
basic benefits that are critical to their family's survival.
B. Providing supports to help strengthen low-income
One priority in developing new welfare policies must be to provide
support and promote strong, healthy families in all their different
forms. Clearly, we should support strong marriages and married couples,
and remove impediments to marriage that discourage individuals who want
to marry. But we ought to create these types of policies with our eyes
open and not shut to the realities facing many families. Rather than
focusing merely on getting individuals married regardless of whether
there is a solid foundation, our focus ought to be on what it takes to
make marriages work. To the extent that we want to assist low-income
married couples who receive welfare, or are recent welfare leavers, we
should concentrate on addressing the real problems that they face, such
as removing TANF provisions that place additional burdens on married
couples, and increasing the availability of transitional childcare,
family and medical leave, affordable health care, and affordable
But we cannot limit our support only to married couple families who
represent only a portion of all families. We have to promote strong,
healthy families in whatever way they are constructed. Very few would
disagree that having two parents in the home working together to
provide a healthy and nurturing environment can be an ideal setting for
children. But it is not the reality for many children. And, given that,
we cannot conclude that it is the only environment in which children
can prosper and grow. We must be willing to take a variety of steps to
support low-income families headed by single parents to give their
children the best chance to succeed. In addition, there are many
families where grandparents, other relatives, and family friends are
struggling to keep families together. We ought to do everything we can
to strengthen those bonds and help those families stay intact and
III. Welfare policies must be designed to address the problems of
families as they are and not only as we would like them to be
As we craft new welfare policies, we ought not to operate in a
vacuum. Targeting benefits only at married couples will leave millions
of hard-working single-parent families without adequate resources,
exacerbating their already difficult circumstances. The stark reality
is that married couple families are on the decline. If the Congress
wants to try to reverse this trend through non-punitive, non-
discriminatory policies, it should do so. But those policies should not
be a substitute for providing supports to the families who have
immediate needs that must be met.
The most recent Census Bureau statistics reveal significant shifts
in the different types of families in our country.\11\ Less than a
quarter of American households--23.5%--are composed of traditional,
``nuclear'' families with two married parents living at home with
children. The number of single-parent families is growing at a faster
rate than married couple families. These numbers only confirm that
family arrangements are becoming increasingly complex and the concept
of what constitutes a family is changing.
\11\ United States Census Bureau, Profile of General Demographic
Characteristics for the United States: 2000 (Washington: Government
Printing Office, 2001). See Schmitt, Eric, ``For First Time, Nuclear
Families Drop Below 25% of Households,'' New York Times, 14 May 2001 at
It is in this context that we must develop welfare policies that
are responsive to the needs of different types of families living in
poverty. Our efforts should be informed by an accurate, comprehensive
understanding of the families being served, and by what we have learned
about policies that work and policies that do not work. We already know
from history that we have to exercise care in constructing policies
that may impact how families compose themselves. Some have criticized
the prior Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) system because
there were marriage disincentives. To the extent that the old AFDC law
may have had incentives that discouraged certain types of families, we
ought not to repeat those same mistakes. Nor should we penalize
families now because they followed the old rules by changing those
rules in the middle of the game. One lesson that we should have learned
from the past is that we must proceed with caution when crafting
policies that affect families when they are at their most vulnerable.
If we want to move families out of poverty, then we first have to be
willing to understand the reality of their lives and develop policies
that enable them to become economically secure, whatever their
structure. We ought not to have disincentives to marriage, but we ought
not to coerce individuals into getting married either.
Equally important, we must not endorse policies that discriminate
against certain types of families, nor should we oversimplify the
problems of families living in poverty. The vast majority of single-
parent families receiving TANF are headed by women, and they would be
affected disproportionately by any policy that relegates them to
``second-class family'' status. Adopting policies that have the effect
of discriminating against female-headed families in favor of married
couples is unfair, unwise, and unnecessary. Denying supports to the
families who often are most in need not only hurts families, but also
ultimately will lead to more long-term costs as these families struggle
More fundamentally, we cannot assume that the problems facing
single-headed households living in poverty--whether headed by women or
by men--will be solved simply by getting married. Marriage is not a
panacea: there are a multitude of factors that lead to poverty in this
country, we ought not to oversimplify them or ignore their
complexities. If two parents are unemployed and have limited job
skills, marriage alone may do little to solve that problem. In fact,
such a marriage will undergo significant stress and is much more likely
to dissolve. If we are committed to the goal of helping families move
out of poverty, then first and foremost we have to be willing to
provide concrete supports that can help make that dream a reality. A
report released by the National Campaign for Jobs and Income, for
example, revealed that many states have significant TANF surpluses even
though many welfare clients cannot access much-needed supports like
\12\ Poverty Amidst Plenty: Amount of Unspent Federal Anti-Poverty
Funds Grows Despite Persistent Need (Washington: National Campaign for
Jobs and Income, February 2000).
It is critical that states provide basic supports to low-income
families, and make investments in important strategies like the
creation of livable wage jobs, so that families can have a realistic
chance of achieving economic independence. And these basic supports
should not be ignored in favor of largely unproven policies--such as
paying clients to get married--that may not even scratch the surface of
the underlying problems that clients confront on a daily basis.
These cautionary words about marriage formation policies in the
context of welfare reform are not a condemnation of marriage, or an
effort to discourage individuals who want to get married. It is
precisely out of respect for what the institution of marriage should be
that I reject outdated notions about which people are more deserving of
support, and resist efforts to use marriage as the solution to other,
more complicated problems. But most importantly, I urge you not to
allow a discussion about marriage to divert attention from the task at
hand--adopting concrete, comprehensive policies to provide all families
in need with the supports they need to make a permanent transition from
welfare to economic security.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Ms. Rubiner. Now we will hear
from Mr. Gene Steuerle of the Urban Institute.
STATEMENT OF C. EUGENE STEUERLE, SENIOR FELLOW, URBAN INSTITUTE
Mr. Steuerle. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Cardin. As the
last of six speakers on the topic of marriage at the end of a
long day, I am reminded of Henry VIII's admonition to his own
six wives, that they were not to overstay their welcome. What I
would like to talk to you about today is the way that Federal
policy creates marriage penalties, and I would like to
emphasize that TANF is only the tip of the iceberg. Marriage
penalties are created by food stamps, by Medicaid, by housing
subsidies, by Supplemental Security Income, by the earned
income credit, by the individual income tax, and--even for some
widows, widowers and divorced persons--by the way Social
Security and military and Foreign Service retirement systems
work. And these are only some of the culprits.
Marriage penalties, however, are not inevitable. Most
public expenditures are made through programs that do not
create marriage penalties. Marriage penalties essentially arise
in those programs that phase out benefits as income increases,
and then attempt to impose that additional tax, that implicit
tax, on a household when a spouse with earnings marries into
it. Two rationales are used to justify marriage penalties. Some
believe that we should grant fewer benefits or impose higher
taxes on a married couple than on two single individuals with
the same combined income as the couple.
The argument is that there are economies of scale in the
marriage and therefore the household with people living
together are better off because of those shared facilities and
goods. It is not that there are no economies of scale. Indeed,
there are; however, they apply to almost all sharing
arrangements: dormitories, retirement homes, cohabitation and
so on. If you think about it, it is only the marital vows of
allegiance that is the type of arrangement on which we impose
In those communities where marriage is no longer the norm,
and, as the recent census shows, those communities are growing,
this natural social incentive to achieve economies of scale in
living does not disappear, but is merely converted into forms
that avoid the marriage contract. For example, adult males in
marriage-discouraged communities still live with someone, they
still achieve economies of scale, only now they are more likely
than before to stay with their mothers, with relatives, with
friends, or in serial relationships, rather than with a spouse
or their own children.
The transfer and tax systems say, in particular that, if
they are fathers, they can support their children better by
remaining unmarried. Marriage penalties are also a classic
example of the type of liberal-conservative compromise that has
dominated social policy for several decades. Liberals wanting
social programs to be as progressive as possible want to
concentrate benefits on the lowest-income people. Conservatives
wanting to limit budget cost also want to limit the benefits.
Both motives, progressivity and budget containment, are
honorable motives. The net result, however, of this compromise
has been that we have achieved substantial marriage penalties
on significant portions of the population.
Because each new expenditure and tax program tends to have
its own unique, built-in phase out, households in America
literally face dozens of income tax systems. Every one of these
programs--TANF, food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)--
has a little mini income tax in it that is imposed as that
program phases out. To see how these tax rates affect marriage,
take an example of a single head of household who has moved out
of TANF and has a job making a little over $10,000 a year. If
this benefit recipient now marries a single person earning,
say, about $8 an hour (a logical partner), their combined
income would fall by about 22 percent, or over $7,000. The
reason? They would lose earned-income credits; they would lose
food stamps; they would lose Medicaid.
In my view, taxing a large share of marital commitments
makes little sense in any society, especially one seeking to
foster community spirit among its members. After all, the
primary feature of a community is to share, and the most basic
form of sharing is between two people or within a family.
Independently, from whether marriage penalties significantly
affect behavior, I believe they have a corrosive effect on
society, and especially on low-income communities most affected
by marriage penalties.
In summary form, there are four steps that I believe would
solve this marriage penalty problem. First, we must reduce the
combined marginal tax rate, implicit and explicit, that applies
to low and moderate income individuals, so that they do not
rise much above the rates that now apply to middle and upper
income families. In other words, we have to keep the tax rate
down around 30 or 40 percent, and not at the rate of 70 percent
or more that it often achieves.
Second, we have to avoid adding phase out after phase out
after phase out to every benefit and tax program. If you
remember nothing else from my testimony, I hope you remember
that every time a phase out is added to a government program,
it creates a marriage penalty. Third, we need to move toward
individually based, as well as family based wage subsidies for
low-income workers. And, finally, at least for the low and
middle-income ranges, apply income splitting rules, which
Congress is attempting to do in its 2001 tax legislation.
Finally, regardless of whether you accept these
recommendations, I do hope you will consider attempting to
coordinate administrative structures and to share data in all
government programs so we can learn just better what is
happening to America's families.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Steuerle follows:]
Statement of C. Eugene Steuerle, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute
[Significant portions of this testimony appeared in ``Valuing
Marital Commitment: The Radical Restructuring of Our Tax and Transfer
Systems,'' The Responsive Community (Spring 1999). Any opinions
expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed
to the Urban Institute, its officers, or funders.]
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
In principle, both American voters and their elected officials want
to support marriage and the family. One would expect, then, that our
expenditure programs and tax code would reflect this desire.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Instead of a consistent
policy, we have a crazy quilt of expenditure and tax policies that
directly affect families, some for the better, some for the worse. It
is a quilt weaved with no overall pattern or shape. Today's
extraordinary array of marriage penalties was not present a few decades
ago. The penalties arise mainly from the high rate at which welfare and
other expenditure programs reduce benefits in the presence of a spouse
Among other programs, large marriage penalties are created by:
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);
Various Housing Subsidies;
Supplemental Security Income;
The Earned Income Tax Credit;
The Individual Income Tax;
and, for many widows, widowers, and divorced persons:
Military and Foreign Service Retirement Systems.
And these are only some of the culprits. Almost the entire gamut of
other income-conditioned programs--including child care benefits and
energy assistance--create marriage penalties.
Marriage penalties are not inevitable. Most public expenditures are
made through programs that do not create marriage penalties. Medicare,
public education at the primary and secondary level, and highways are
examples of public programs that generally do not create marriage
penalties. These penalties can be avoided, but only through a good deal
of careful thinking about design.
Required Conditions for Creating Marriage Penalties
Let me turn more precisely to the conditions under which marriage
penalties arise. Marriage penalties or bonuses will arise in almost any
tax or expenditure system meeting the following two conditions:
(1) a subsidy or tax, explicit or implicit, assessed on the basis
of household or family income or resources, and
(2) different marginal or incremental subsidy, tax, or phaseout
rates at different levels of income or resources.
A Critical Analysis of the Rationales Used to Justify Marriage
Taxing by Households: Penalizing Committed Sharing. Marriage
penalties are acceptable to some who believe that we should grant fewer
benefits or impose higher taxes on a married couple than on two single
individuals with the same combined income as the couple. The argument
is that there are economies of scale in households because of shared
facilities and goods. One TV may be enough for two people, one person
may be able to prepare a meal for two just as easily as for one, and so
on. Thus, sharing is a process that adds economic benefit over and
above household income.
If our sole goal were to treat all households equally on their need
for help or ability to pay taxes, then technically, it is correct that
the household sharing goods and services would have lesser need and
greater ability than an equal-size, equal-income grouping of people not
sharing a household. The problem with using this argument to justify
marriage penalties is not that there are no economies of scale from
sharing. There are, and, indeed, these gains reinforce other natural
instincts to engage in mutual support. Economies of scale, however,
apply to almost all sharing arrangements--dormitories, retirement
homes, cohabitation, and so on. Yet marital vows of allegiance are the
only type of arrangement that is taxed.
In those communities where marriage is no longer the norm--and, as
the most recent census shows, these communities are growing--this
natural social incentive to achieve economies of scale in living
arrangements does not disappear, but merely is converted into forms
that avoid the marriage contract. For example, adult males in marriage-
discouraged communities often still live with someone, only now they
are more likely than before to stay with their mothers, with other
relatives or friends, or in serial relationships rather than with a
spouse or with their own children. The transfer and tax systems say
that these males deserve significantly lower levels of taxation and
higher levels of support than males with equal incomes who marry. If
they are fathers, it tells them that they can support their children
better by remaining unmarried.
Marriage Penalties: A Classic Liberal-Conservative Compromise.
Marriage penalties are a classic example of the type of liberal-
conservative compromise that has dominated policy-making for several
decades. Liberals, wanting social programs to be as progressive as
possible, often try to concentrate whatever benefits are available at
the bottom of the income distribution. Conservatives, wanting to limit
the cost to government, also want to limit the benefits. Both motives--
progressivity and budget containment--are honorable. The compromise
usually used to achieve these goals, however, is to phase-out benefits
quickly as income (or wealth) increases in the household. This effort
attempts to achieve target efficiency by maximizing help to the poor
for the lowest stated expenditure cost. To tax experts, these phaseouts
are equivalent to additional layers of income tax systems. As income
rises, a household is implicitly taxed in the form of a reduction of
benefits, with almost the same economic effect as explicit taxes.
Because each new expenditure and tax subsidy program tends to have
its own unique, built-in, phase-out, households in America (and in most
developed countries) literally face dozens of tax systems. For example,
if I lose 50 cents of a benefit when my income goes up by $1, the
effective tax rate from that benefit program alone is 50 percent. Now
think about the multiple programs in the expenditure and direct tax
systems that are phased out--welfare, food stamps, housing allowances,
earned income tax credits, Medicaid, child credits, educational
assistance, personal exemptions, eligibility for participation in
individual retirement accounts, exclusion from the minimum tax, and so
These high tax rates affect not only extra income earned through
work. They affect any income introduced into a benefit-receiving
household through marriage. Some examples are presented in Table 1 and
Figure 1. Consider, in particular, a single head of household moving
off of welfare to a minimum wage job earning $10,710 a year--just as
recent welfare reform encourages (example 4). Such an individual does
succeed in moving out of (or almost out of) traditional welfare
(defined as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), but still receives
a variety of other supplements, such as food stamps and earned income
tax credits. The problem is that if this benefit recipient now marries
a single person earning, say $8/hr or $16,640 a year, their combined
income would fall by 22 percent, or $7,570 because of the marriage
This reality may explain in part why, in many low-income families,
fathers feel little sense of accomplishment in staying around to marry
and raise children. Government in effect has declared that working
fathers in low-income, two-parent families are a liability. Whatever
the changes in cultural standards or mores that may have led to this
situation, the government has created enormous barriers to responsible
fatherhood. The total income of those households dominated by income
assistance, children born out of wedlock, and the absence of married
couples would fall significantly if individuals in these communities
would marry in patterns closer to national averages. In these
communities, government has effectively pronounced that marriage is a
foolish exercise--even though marriage is a principal route out of
In recent years, Congress has turned its attention to a moderate
subset of all the marriage penalties: those associated with the
progressive rate schedule in the individual income tax and with the
requirement for joint filing in the case of married couples. It is true
that during a brief period of time most marriage penalties did arise
out of the progressive income tax rate schedule. But as should be clear
by now, with the myriad of expenditures and tax subsidy programs that
have developed over the years, the sources of marriage penalties extend
far beyond those imposed by the individual income tax. To the
Congress's credit, I should note that its 2001 legislation does appear
to reduce some of these marriage penalties through changes in the
standard deduction, tax rate structure, and the child credit.
Options for Removing or Reducing Marriage Penalties
To reduce or eliminate marriage penalties essentially involves
addressing either of the two conditions--household filing or multiple
rates--that creates the penalties. There are several approaches or
options, and sometimes they can be combined. These options and some of
their related difficulties are outlined below.
Flattening of the Combined Tax Rate Schedule. Complete elimination
of variable rates would mean that income would face the same tax rate
whether the income was combined in marriage or not. As a practical
step, one could try to limit the combined marginal tax rate for low-
and moderate-income individuals moving out of welfare programs to
around 30 percent or 40 percent, rather than the 70 percent rate
(sometimes even 100 percent or more) they now often face. Then, when
they moved into the income or Social Security tax systems, they would
again face a similar combined rate (in general, the 15.3 percent Social
Security tax plus a 15 percent bottom rate bracket in the income tax).
Marriage is effectively penalized much less, and how income is split
matters less when each person faces the same tax rate inside or outside
Note that a true flattening of tax rates at low-income levels would
require reconsideration of almost every income-conditioned expenditure
and tax program on the books. Today, however, these programs often do
not even share administrative records and their administrators have
little idea how they overlap. It would also require abandonment of the
liberal-conservative compromise placing so much stress on progressivity
and measured (although not always real) budget saving within every
income-related program, taken one at a time. Given changes that could
simultaneously be made in other features, such as the level of minimum
benefit and the direct income tax rates at higher income levels, it is
unclear whether overall progressivity would be reduced by this type of
effort. Nonetheless, phase-outs cannot be sought by Congress every time
it deals with an individual expenditure or tax subsidy program without
almost inevitably adding to marriage penalties.
Income Splitting. A traditional option to deal with marriage
penalties has been income splitting, which effectively treats married
couples as if each were an individual filing a single return and
reporting exactly the right share (one-half) of the couple's total
income so as to minimize tax liability. Unfortunately, income splitting
eliminates only those marriage penalties arising from a schedule where
rates are always successively as high, or higher, at greater levels of
income, a situation that is the norm in the middle- and upper-income
classes from the income tax alone. But our two conditions demonstrate
that marriage penalties can also occur when rates fall as income
increases. Because of all the phase-outs and implicit tax schemes, the
real tax system now imposes such a rate structure on a large portion of
the population. Thus, when an individual moves through the phaseout
ranges of the earned income tax credit, food stamps, Medicaid, the
itemized deduction limitation, the IRA contribution limit, and so
forth, marginal tax rates fall rather than rise.
Take the simple case of the welfare recipient who considers
marriage. Assume a welfare/tax structure that provides to unmarried
adults $5,000 of benefits at zero income, no tax and no benefits at
$10,000 of income, and a tax of $1,000 at $20,000 of income. Before
marriage, a couple with $0 in income for one partner and $20,000 for
the other would get benefits of $5,000 and taxes of $1,000 for a net
benefit of $4,000. If they marry and split their income, then each is
treated as having $10,000 of income. They then get no benefits and pay
no taxes for a net benefit of $0. The net income of the couple would
fall $4,000. Income splitting just doesn't work here.
Individual Filing. Congress could also move toward individual
filing. An intriguing possibility, and one that I increasingly favor,
is for wage subsidies like the earned income tax credit to accompany
the worker and not the family, and for child credits or subsidies to
accompany the child. Canada is currently experimenting with such an
approach with respect to wage subsidies, although eligible recipients
are limited to those already on welfare. I recognize that some high-
income families would then get a credit or subsidy. But worrying about
whether someone paying millions of dollars in tax gets a small subsidy
here or there is simply not worth the trouble. On average, higher
income families can be made to pay for these changes through an
explicit tax rate structure. (We now have programs that allow high-
income individuals to benefit from the much larger and more expensive
Social Security or Medicare programs or from public school education,
yet progressivity is not removed; the rich simply pay more than their
share of taxes to support these systems.)
My main concern is trying to address issues related to parenthood,
marriage, and work among low- and moderate-income individuals. If
subsidies were applied at low wage levels on an individual basis, they
would not create the current strong incentives against marriage in low-
income communities. Such a step would also remove the negative impact
of the welfare system, as currently structured, on the forgotten low-
income male. The trick again is that once a program is aimed at the
individual, marriage can have no effect on benefits or taxes paid. This
type of reform could significantly change the environment of low-income
communities. Consider an example: if a single mother earning $10,000 a
year received a wage rate subsidy like the earned income tax credit on
an individual basis, she would not lose it if she married someone with
income of his own. Similarly, if a low-earning male married into a
family, he would still be eligible for any wage rate subsidy that was
available for low-income workers living with dependent children. With
individually based programs, his earnings would not affect his wife's,
and her earnings would not affect his.
Note that many taxpayers are already in a world of optional
individual filing. The main difference is that the benefit now is
granted only to those who are able or willing to treat the act of
marriage as the option.
A Comprehensive Approach
In my view, taxing a large share of marital commitments makes
little sense in any society, much less one searching for ways to revive
or foster community spirit among its members. After all, the primary
feature of community is to share, and the most basic form of sharing is
between two people or within a family. Admittedly, the research in this
field does not prove that removal of marriage penalties would have a
significant effect on behavior. It would not by itself, for instance,
reverse the sexual revolution. But empirical research is not good at
detecting the influences of policy on long-term social norms.
Moreover, although the marriage penalties within the income tax
have been around since 1969, we have only recently moved to a society
where the very large marriage penalties from income assistance and wage
subsidy programs have been extended well into the middle class and
beyond the stereotypical poor, nonworking, welfare recipient. It is
doubtful that the long-run influences of any of these conditions have
yet to be fully experienced by society.
Independently from whether marriage penalties will significantly
affect behavior in a narrow sense, I believe that they have a corrosive
effect on society and especially on those low-income communities most
affected by marriage penalties. Marriage penalties violate almost
everyone's sense of fairness because they penalize only one type of
sharing: that achieved through moral and legal promises. These
penalties further discourage responsible fatherhood and motherhood.
Finally, where economies of scale are conjured, the reasoning mentioned
at the beginning of this paper is easily turned on its head. That is,
because sharing can increase the effective well-being of individuals
with no increase in their nominal income, society might want to
subsidize such economies of scale rather than tax them. A similar
efficiency argument lies behind some of the subsidies offered for
education and other income-supporting activities.
What all this implies in practical terms is that to deal with
marriage penalties in a thorough manner, Congress almost inevitably has
to reconsider the entire range of explicit and implicit taxes it has
imposed on income. Most of the hidden taxes it has adopted over the
years would need to be reconsidered, pulled into an integrated whole,
and, where appropriate, replaced by direct, explicit taxes.
Drawing from all the options outlined above, here is a
comprehensive package that would successfully change the ways our
transfer and tax systems penalize marriage for low- and moderate-income
Reduce combined marginal tax rates on low- and moderate-
income individuals so that they do not rise much above the rate that
applies to middle- and higher-income individuals.
Use the direct tax rate schedule as the primary means to
establish overall progressivity and abandon the complicated effort to
put ``progressivity'' into everything government does. In other words,
stop adding phaseout after phaseout of benefits and subsidies.
Move toward individually based rather than family-based
wage subsidies for low-income workers.
At least for low- and some middle-income ranges, apply
income splitting rules. Congress appears on the verge of taking this
step in its 2001 legislation.
Let me be clear that the issue of how to make adjustments for
children is, for the most part, a separable issue. Where adjustments
are desired because of the costs of raising children, they can be
achieved through child credits and dependent exemptions without giving
additional bonuses to all married couples. Put another way, if the goal
is to assist parents because of the presence of children, spousal
benefits and bonuses are a poorly targeted device.
As I have indicated, it is not clear to me that policymakers fully
comprehend what's required to achieve changes of this scale and
magnitude. Incremental changes here and there may reduce marriage
penalties slightly, but they may be more than offset by new marriage
penalties introduced every time a new phase-out or implicit income tax
is introduced. The momentum for change may need to come from acceptance
of a broader principle. For example, a law might limit the combined
marginal tax rate facing a low- or moderate-income worker to no more
than the tax rate applying to the highest income individuals. To
implement that goal, however, considerable effort would be required to
coordinate administrative structures in all the government's many
programs and convert the crazy quilt of family policy into a more
consistently designed overall program.
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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] T4227A.024
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, Mr. Steuerle. I thank
each of our panelists, and now we will turn to some questions.
Mr. Popenoe, we hear a lot about the negative effects of
family breakdown on children. Could you tell us more about the
positive effects of marriage on adults, and especially women,
some of which you note on page four of your testimony?
Mr. Popenoe. Which I did not get to, and there is a lot of
new information about how marriage provides health benefits,
wealth benefits, longevity, happiness, low levels of
depression. These are determined by comparing married people
with single people, and by comparing married people with
cohabiting couples. In such comparisons, the married couples
tend to come out way ahead. There have been a many attempts to
try to determine that this is not just a selection affect: in
other words, that is due only to the fact that the happier,
healthier and wealthier people go into marriage. The general
belief now among scholars is that it is not primarily the
selection affect. There is a real marriage effect, and the
reason for it seems to be that two people who pledge a long-
term commitment to each other can plan their life together, can
achieve economies of scale, can monitor each other's behavior,
can be lifelong, intimate sexual companions, and all those
things bring enormous benefits to the married couple.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mr. Popenoe.
Mr. Steuerle, you were mentioning in your testimony, and
you referred to it on page three, that if a single head of
household earning $10,700 per year married someone making $8
dollars per hour, their combined income could fall by over
$7,500 due to the marriage alone. Is there data on whether low-
income workers actually make these sorts of calculations prior
to marrying or choosing not to marry?
Mr. Steuerle. Mr. Chairman, I should be honest. The
research is very mixed on the question of whether you can
slightly change incentives in these programs and thereby affect
the marriage rate. Certainly trying to remove marriage
penalties in government programs, for instance, is not going to
remove the sexual revolution. However, I should also indicate
that we have no good evidence on what the social effect in a
community is. We do know that people learn from each other.
There is a similar debate, for instance, about whether a lot of
the penalties for working longer lead people to retire. But
there is some evidence that if you retire and I live next to
you in New York, and you have better incentives than I do, I
still might retire and move to Florida because you moved. And
the same thing appears to take place in a lot of these low-
income communities--in particular that people learn by watching
But as an analyst and a researcher, I must be honest. The
research is very mixed. I am not going to exaggerate that we
know how to slightly change incentives and thereby foster
marriage. I will start, however, that in all these programs the
government does say to low-income people that marriage is a
mistake that is very costly. That message is there, whether it
affects their marriage rates or not.
Chairman Herger. Thank you, Mr. Steuerle. Ms. Edin, would
you like to comment on this, on our culture and low-income----
Ms. Edin. Sure. I think the kind of research you really
need to get at these questions is the kind of research that
ethnographers and qualitative researchers do, who actually go
out and spend time in low-income communities. I would say that
in terms of some of the penalties, for example, in the earned-
income tax credit, the credit still has not quite been around
long enough for people to begin noticing these things. I
suspect they will, because it is very interesting, in another
line of research on welfare reform, how they are noticing the
effect of the increased income disregard, which in many States
has moved from 33 percent, and this is really--our evidence
suggests that this might be having at least a modest incentive
effect on mothers' sense of working being worthwhile.
So I would suspect that because the penalty for marriage is
so huge in the earned-income tax credit, in particular, that
people will begin learning from each other and picking up on
it, and it is a matter of time.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much, Ms. Edin. Mr. Cardin,
Mr. Cardin. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank each of the panelists. This panel has
brought us back to the realities of the problem that we have
with people, in promoting marriage and dealing with children
born out of wedlock. It has convinced me that the goals that we
have in TANF are the correct goals in this regard, but we need
to expand that to deal with the economic problems of poverty,
which is clearly stopping us from making the type of progress
that we want. I think, Ms. Edin, your observations from the
people that you interview bring us back to reality; that a
mother is not interested in marrying if that mother believes it
is not going to be in the best interest of her family, and
taking on the financial responsibility of a husband is not
always in the best interest of the family.
It also brings us back to the bill that we worked on last
year, Mr. Chairman, the fatherhood initiative, where we were
trying to connect fathers to family by helping fathers become
more responsible by having the skills necessary to earn a
livelihood, and we think that program made sense in the goals
of welfare. So it really, I think, reinforces some of our
points from our work last year. Also, there are currently
disincentives in the welfare law that--Ms. Ooms, you mentioned
the fact that 33 States, I think, have moved to remove the
distinction between a two-parent family and a one-parent family
in eligibility. That means there are 17 States that have not,
so we still have disincentives in our law that really need to
be examined as to whether they are counterproductive to the
goals we are trying to establish here.
Also, the post-employment services, which are very
difficult for States to participate in because the clock is
still tolling. If they provide supplemental assistance or if
they try to deal with some of the skills training that is
necessary, it can affect a State's willingness to move in this
direction. So I think you have to look at it in total, and we
have not done that. I do not agree with the point, I think that
you make, Mr. Fagan, about such a small percentage of the
resources going to these goals. I think you have to take a look
at it in more general way, and I am not sure we have the
numbers. We need better statistics. I agree with you there. We
need much better information in order to make these judgments,
but I was just impressed by, at least--and if you want to add
more to this, Ms. Ooms or Ms. Edin, I would appreciate it--the
fact that if you deal with the economics, you can deal with
trying to get the family more connected.
If there are rewards in it, there is a better chance of
having the father connected to the family, at least that is how
I interpret it from some of the work that you were doing.
Ms. Edin. I can respond to that a little bit. I think what
the interviews with these mothers have shown, and we are doing
corollary interviews with fathers in three cities, by the way,
is that there are really two things going on. One is economic
and the other thing is sort of behavioral, and in some ways the
two are tied together, because we know, for example, that
although domestic violence occurs across the income
distribution, it is more concentrated among the poor, among
Other problems are similarly true. The sex gap, the gap in
sexual expectations between men and women, is wider at the
bottom than it is in the middle, and so it is kind of hard to
sort that out. But I think we would be mistaken to think it is
all economics. I think economics plays a big role, but there
are cultural issues, as well, in the way men have been
socialized to treat women, and the way men are not socialized
to be very good dads or very connected to their kids.
But I will tell you that based on, now, 6 years of
interviewing low-income, non-custodial fathers, that there is a
great deal of willingness or maybe even wishful thinking, on
the part of fathers, willingness to want to be more involved in
Mr. Cardin. Again, that is why this Committee and the House
last year passed the fatherhood initiative. Unfortunately, it
did not pass the Senate. But the fatherhood initiative was
recognition that we had to put more attention on the
noncustodial parent for the reasons you just said, gain some
experience, figure out how to deal with the problem, and
hopefully that will develop some guidelines for States to be
more aggressive in this area.
Ms. Ooms, did you want to add something?
Ms. Ooms. I just wanted to add, I think we have to do
several things at once. This is a complicated issue, especially
for low-income couples. However, the TANF goals that address
the two-parent families and out-of-wedlock childbearing relate
to the general population. I think it is a question of
economics. I think it is a question of culture. I think it is a
question of the relationship skills that were talked about in
the first panel. I think you would agree, Kathy, that in low-
income families, you could give the guy a job and they could
live together, but they could still have a hard time if
somebody did not help them learn to get along better together.
I think they need some of these kinds of soft-skills services,
as many other people do, too.
So, I think we have to have multiple strategies and not
rely on just one or the other. I think we also need to think
what are the best times at which we can give this kind of help.
This new study that some of you know about, the Fragile
Families and Child Well-being study, which is showing that the
time of birth is the time when many of these unmarried couples
are really very romantically attached, 50 percent are living
together and say they want to marry. This offers a window of
opportunity when we should be offering both the economic help
and the training in relationship skills and other supports to
couples. I think that this is one of the most exciting pieces
of research that is really helping guide policy in the future.
Ms. Edin. 30 seconds?
Mr. Cardin. Sure.
Ms. Edin. I would say, in all of these interviews, the most
palpable reality is the incredibly high level of mistrust
between men and women in these communities.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much. It would appear that
we are in need of more research as we listen to both of our
panels; and Ms. Ooms, just your comment, if you could, about
research in this area, and especially federally funded
research. Is the government paying appropriate attention to
issues of family structure and their impact, especially on
children? What more do you feel should be done? What are some
of the possible benefits if we had better research in this
Ms. Ooms. I think there are a couple of things we should
do. I think first our basic vital national statistics on
marriage and divorce, collected by the Centers for Disease
Control from state governments, have to be rebuilt. We must
invest in getting those statistics in the same shape as we have
our birth and death statistics, because otherwise we cannot
keep track of trends in marriage and divorce in the States and
communities. So that is one area that we really need to pay
some attention, and it has been terribly, badly neglected.
What we do know about these issues has been learned from a
lot of federally funded research, but I would say that the
whole issue of ``couple unions,'' as researchers call it, has
had very low priority in the Federal research agenda. I think
the kind of thing that would be helpful, because there are so
many issues that we still do not understand and we need to know
about--is the kind of initiative we had on the fatherhood front
about 3 or 4 years ago. All the Federal statistical agencies
got together and said how can we learn more about fathers and
fatherhood, and they began to plan to add fathers to certain
surveys and to do certain kinds of piggybacking on each other's
studies to learn more.
I think if there is The Interagency Forum on Child and
Family Statistics, which made this effort in the fatherhood
area, should be asked by the Congress to make the same kind of
effort in the couples and marriage area. Then we might be able
to learn a lot more from data that is already out there, and
also from new data they decide needs to be collected. So I
think we have a big job to do.
Mr. Steuerle. Mr. Chairman, could I also add one very quick
Chairman Herger. Yes.
Mr. Steuerle. One way, to really leverage up what you want
to do in the way of research is to combine administrative data
sets and the survey data sets. There is not a lot of money
required: in some sense, the people have already paid for those
surveys, already paid to file those administrative records. In
a lot of States and at the national level, those sets are not
combined. There are a lot of reasons why they are not combined.
It is not just resources. Issues of confidentiality are also
involved. But a lot of the data, I think, are there to improve
our understanding greatly. It may only be a minor element in
the type of legislation you deal with, but I believe it could
be very important.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much. Again, I want to
thank each of you for your outstanding testimony, both this
panel and our first panel. Once again, I trust the witnesses
would respond to additional questions on these issues. It has
been a very informative hearing. I appreciate the work that
each of you have done and the time that you have given us
today, and with that, this Committee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 4:25 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
[Questions submitted from Chairman Herger to the panel, and
their responses follow:]
National Marriage Project
Piscataway, New Jersey 08901
June 5, 2001
Hon. Wally Herger
Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources
Committee on Ways and Means
House of Representatives
Congress of the United States
Dear Chairman Herger:
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to provide further
information to you and your distinguished Committee. I will answer the
questions in the order they were asked.
Question 1. As the hearing reflected, the Subcommittee is
interested in overall trends in marriage and family formation, with a
special focus on the impact of these trends on lower income families,
including those on or at risk of going on welfare. Thus, in addition to
the general data included in your testimony about overall marriage,
divorce, cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock birth data and trends, please
provide us with similar marriage, divorce, cohabitation and out-of-
wedlock birth information, to the degree available, for low-income
families, including families on or at risk of going on welfare.
1. The National Marriage Project does not keep marriage data broken
down by income or by those at risk of going on welfare. These data can
be secured from the U.S. Census Bureau and from such private sources as
the Urban Institute or the Heritage Foundation. As you well know,
however, the marriage situation in the low-income community is far
worse than it is for the nation as a whole. Indeed, in some urban areas
marriage has all but disappeared as the basis of family life.
Question 2. Is there anything we can do about reversing the trends
in family formation? What social, cultural or legal factors reinforced
marriage in prior generations and what specifically changed? Were there
legislative policies that had an effect on undermining marriage?
2. The decline of marriage and the family in the United States over
the past four decades is largely attributed to changes in three areas:
the economy, government policies, and the culture. In the economy, the
rise in women's employment opportunities and earning ability has
reduced the benefits associated with sharing income and household costs
with a man and also made divorce and the single life more attractive.
In other words, women's new economic independence enhances both their
unwillingness to marry and their willingness to divorce. At the same
time, as men's wages and job opportunities have declined relative to
women's, the eligibility of men as potential marriage partners has
dropped. Women are less likely to want to marry lower-earning men, and
lower-earning men are less likely to want to marry because they feel
unable to support a family. Studies have indicated that these economic
changes have made a measurable but rather modest contribution to family
change in America.
The impact of government has focused largely on two areas. At the
national level are the perverse incentives in tax policies and welfare
programs, incentives that reward people for being unmarried rather than
married. For the society as a whole these public policies have probably
been relatively unimportant. But for the very poor, and those on
welfare, their impact has been much greater. At the state level, the
most widely analyzed policy has been the shift to ``no-fault'' divorce,
beginning in the late sixties. Scholars differ about the effect this
may have had on increasing the divorce rate. Some have found little or
no effect, while others have determined that the divorce increase may
have been as high as 20%. The increase, however, was for only the first
few years following the legal change, after which the effect
By far the most important cause of family decline has been changes
in the culture, that is, the values and beliefs that give coherence and
meaning to life. During the past forty years we have seen changes in
the fundamental ideals and role expectations that have defined the
family for the past several centuries. ``Self-fulfillment'' has risen
as a dominant life goal, displacing such values as self-sacrifice,
commitment to others, and institutional obligation. The traditional
moral legitimacy and authority of almost all social institutions,
including marriage, has eroded. Although individuals still favor
marriage as an intimate partnership, they have become more hesitant to
commit themselves to institutionalized marriage roles and societies
have weakened their sanctions of such roles. This broad cultural shift
is the end result of the long-term growth of individualism in modern
societies, accentuated by the relative affluence of our era.
Question 3. How can government help ``rebuild a marriage culture'',
as you put it? Is it enough to remove marriage penalties in the Tax
Code and certain marriage disincentives in benefit programs? What else
is needed, including from non-government sources, such as churches,
civic leaders, the media and so on?
3. Obviously, public policies are not particularly well suited to
changing matters of the heart. Without significant cultural change--for
example, the dampening of the sexual revolution, moral responsibility
on the part of the organized entertainment industry, and a renewed
cultural focus on children--the task of restoring a marriage culture
will be difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, there is a significant role
at the margins for government to play. Lying behind all government
family policies should be three simple propositions: (1) children are
our future; (2), the family is the most important institution for child
wellbeing; (3) marriage is the best arrangement for family life.
Generally speaking, the goal of government should be to increase the
proportion of children who are living with and cared for by their two
natural, married parents and to decrease the proportion of children who
What follows are some key pro-marriage and pro-family policies that
the National Government could institute. I shall emphasize in this
discussion initiatives that apply to all economic segments of the
population. You have many other witnesses, more knowledgeable about
such matters than I, who deal specifically with policies for welfare
and other very low-income populations. And I shall take for granted,
and not discuss, policies already under consideration by the Congress
that help to remove marriage penalties from the Tax Code and marriage
disincentives from benefit programs.
a. Develop and widely promulgate an annual measurement of our
nation's marital and family health, much like the government today
provides annual measurements of our Nation's economic health. The
importance of marriage and the family must be publicized more widely;
this would be an effective way to start. In addition to divorce and
out-of-wedlock birth rates, the measurement should include indicators
such as the percent of children living apart from their two married
parents and the percent of children living apart from their biological
b. Develop, test, and disseminate widely on an informational basis,
premarital and marital education programs. Many educational programs
now exist that are designed to strengthen existing and future
marriages. Good marriages are a national resource, and we should be
encouraging them. This effort might be thought of as akin to the
Federal government's cooperative extension programs in agriculture,
which have been instrumental in promoting scientific agriculture and
have led to the world's most productive agricultural economy.
c. Provide educational credits or vouchers to parents who leave the
paid labor force for extended periods of time to care for their young
children. Parents who raise their own children perform an important
social service, but in doing so may harm their long-run career
prospects (not to mention their loss of current income). In return for
this sacrifice, society could compensate their further education so
that they can more effectively reenter the labor force or become
established in their careers. Sometimes referred to as a ``parental
bill of rights'' because it is designed along the lines of the G.I.
Bill for World War II veterans, these credits or vouchers could be
provided for high school, vocational, college, graduate or post-
d. For married couples with dependent children, increase their
personal tax exemption for each year, after 5 years, that they remain
married. Not only should marriage be unpenalized by the tax system, it
should be favored with a tax reward. This marriage bonus would not have
to be great; it could be mostly symbolic. It could also be capped after
a certain time. But it would be a stunning affirmation that long-
lasting marriages are in the national interest.
Question 4. ``Cohabit'' doesn't carry with it the stigma of terms
our parents used for this concept. I can only imagine what today's term
for ``shotgun wedding'' would be, if that concept even has meaning any
more. Does our language indicate society's unwillingness to be more
forceful in promoting marriage above other ``lifestyles''?
4. Our language reflects the way culture has changed in the family
realm. Some of the linguistic changes, such as ``nonmarital
cohabitation,'' stem from the sometimes-misguided attempt of the social
sciences to develop ``value-neutral'' categories. Other changes, such
as the ``right to choice,'' come from advocacy groups. There is not
much that can be done to shape the language once something becomes
established. In my own work, I mostly have to follow the linguistic
guidelines in current use within the social sciences. Where
appropriate, however, I still tend to use such descriptive and
meaningful terms as ``broken'' instead of ``alternative'' family, or
family ``decline'' instead of family ``change.''
Question 5. In the May 22, 2001 Washington Post, E.J. Dionne claims
that the statistics revealing a decline in married two-parent families
are misleading and exaggerated. He says ``the headlines are wrong. The
two-parent family is still the norm in America.'' What is your
5. E.J. Dionne was largely right in his assessment of the media's
handling of the new Census Bureau numbers. The Census Bureau made some
initial gaffes in their press release of the data and these were then
compounded by many journalists. The biggest problem was the use by the
media of the Census category ``household'' to mean ``family.'' The
media stressed that less than 25% of all households now contain married
couples with children, but that is a little misleading. What one really
wants to know is how many families (or family households) with children
are headed by a married couple. And the answer to that is not 25% but
At the same time, Dionne's article itself was misleading: The
``fading family'' is no myth, as he suggested. In 1960 the percentage
of families with children headed by married couples was 93%, in 1990 it
was 76%, today it is just 72%. Thus the downward trend has been steep
and continuing. Although the divorce rate has declined a bit in recent
decades, the percentage of all births that are out-of-wedlock has
remained virtually the same in recent years at about one third (it even
went up slightly last year). The most important problem today is
probably the rapid increase in cohabiting couples with children. As of
this writing, the Census Bureau has not given us the data on cohabiting
couples with children, but from other surveys we know that it has grown
enormously since 1990. As I mentioned in my testimony before the
Committee, there is no tangible evidence yet that the fading family
trend has turned around, although it slowed a little in the 1990s.
I hope this further clarification of my hearing testimony is
helpful, and I would of course be happy to answer any additional
questions you or the other Members of the Committee might have.
Very truly yours,
Professor of Sociology
Co-Director, National Marriage Project
Center for Law and Social Policy
Washington, DC 20036
June 6, 2001
Chairman Wally Herger
Subcommittee on Human Resources
Committee on Ways and Means
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Herger:
I received your letter of May 23 asking me to respond to follow up
questions to my testimony provided at the hearing on marriage and
welfare issues. I will first respond to your two specific questions and
then make a general comment.
Your two questions were: How many States are using TANF funds to
operate fatherhood programs? Do States consider these programs to be
pro-marriage programs? These apparently simple questions are in fact
quite difficult to answer. There have been few systematic attempts to
date to find out what is going on in the states on this issue, and
these inquiries that have taken place have confronted two major
First, there is the problem of defining what is meant by the very
broad term ``fatherhood programs.'' For example fatherhood programs can
refer to media efforts to promote responsible, involved fatherhood for
all fathers (unmarried, married, separated and divorced); to activities
designed to encourage young men not to become fathers before they are
ready to be responsible, and to community-based programs designed to
provide specific services to noncustodial fathers, fathers in
``fragile'' families and so forth.
A second problem is that the broad range of programs and strategies
being used by states to promote responsible fatherhood are scattered
among different agencies and offices. Typically there is no central
office or person who keeps track of what is going on and what funds are
being spent on this issue.
I will summarize below the information that is currently available
from three different sources, the National Center on Children in
Poverty, the Welfare Information Network and the National Conference on
1. The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) published a
report in 1999 titled Map and Track, State Initiatives to Encourage
Responsible Fatherhood by Jane Knitzer and Stanley Bernard. This report
was based on two surveys sent to all state governments, DC, Puerto Rico
and the territories. The survey asked states to report on what policies
and practices states were using that relate to responsible fatherhood.
The survey asked about activities classified in five different
Promoting public awareness about responsible fatherhood;
Preventing unwanted or too-early fatherhood;
Enhancing fathers as economic providers;
Enhancing fathers as nurturers; and
Promoting leadership capacity.
The report found that all of the 43 of the states that responded
reported at least one activity to encourage responsible fatherhood, and
80% of the states reported that they had initiatives in four out of the
In the NCCP survey states were also asked to report separately on
whether they were using Welfare to Work to fund any of these programs,
or TANF funds to provide services to noncustodial fathers of children
receiving TANF funds. 17 of the 43 states that responded reported that
they ``used Federal funds from the welfare law to fund access and
visitation projects.'' Of the twenty-nine states reporting job-related
activities for low income or unemployed fathers, thirteen said that
their program is primarily for fathers of children receiving TANF and
planned to use Welfare to Work moneys for these programs. (Stanley
Bernard told me that the information states provided on these funding
questions was not very complete or clear.)
The findings of the NCCP report suggest that in general fatherhood
initiatives were not designed to promote marriage, however it notes
that many of the programs were beginning to become more sensitive to
gender issues. A few were beginning to focus on domestic violence
issues and teaching the fathers to respect the mothers of their
children, and not abusing them physically, mentally or verbally. And
those programs that primarily served non custodial/non resident fathers
recognize that the mother was typically the ``gatekeeper of access to
children and for a variety of reasons may often make it difficult for
them to be with their fathers.'' (p.53.). Consequently a few of these
programs provided mediation services, and increasingly programs were
developing efforts to teach cooperative parenting between the mothers
and fathers (sometimes referred to as ``team'' parenting).
2. The Welfare Information Network, in collaboration with ACF, NGA,
NCSL and APHSA maintains two data bases of state and local policies,
programs and initiatives: the State Plan Database (see
www.welfareinfo.org/SPD) and the State and Local Initiative Database
(SLID) (for information contact April Kaplan at WIN). The State Plan
Database reports services states provide for noncustodial parents using
TANF funding. These services were classified into six categories:
parenting skills training;
peer counseling programs;
As of November 2000, of the 41 states who provided data, 28 states
reported that they provided services in at least one of these
categories. The most popular statewide program was the Employment/Job
Search category (15 states).
I think it would be safe to say that these programs are not
generally regarded as pro-marriage efforts. Services to noncustodial
parents generally have three purposes: (i) to increase the earnings
capacity of non-custodial fathers so they can be more reliable payors
of child support; (ii) to provide parenting skills training and peer
support so that fathers can have better relationships with their
children; and (iii) to facilitate visitation in high conflict families.
While these programs are not designed to promote marriageability, they
could however have that affect, and anecdotal evidence suggests that in
some individual circumstances this has been the case.
3. The National Conference of State Legislatures has established an
Advisory Committee on Responsible Fatherhood. Members of this committee
and NCSL staff conducted an informal review of state and local
activities through interviews, site visits and committee meetings. In
2000, NCSL published a report Connecting Low-Income Fathers and
Families: A Guide to Practical Policies written by Dana Reichert. One
section of this Guide highlights the availability of TANF funds to
support fatherhood activities and reports on several states that are
using TANF funds for this purpose. These states include California,
Florida, Missouri, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa. In addition
the NCSL report notes that Welfare-to-Work funds are being used in a
number of states to fund services to noncustodial parents who meet
certain eligibility criteria.
Finally, from the NCSL report and from conversations I have had
over the past couple of years with program providers it appears that a
few fatherhood programs are trying out approaches to helping young men
who are not yet fathers, and those who are already fathers learn more
about marriage and the benefits of marriage, and what skills and
attitudes are needed to have successful relationships and long lasting
Comment. I conclude with a few personal observations about your
question as to whether fatherhood programs have the effect of
encouraging low-income fathers to marry. My short answer is that in
some cases they may, but not necessarily to the mother of their
When fatherhood programs help noncustodial fathers, or fathers in
``fragile'' families get jobs, become more responsible providers, and
overcome other personal barriers (such as substance abuse, or
tendencies to be violent) their relationships with their children's
mother may improve. In some circumstances this may lead the parents to
marry (and hopefully have a good lasting marriage).
However we need to be realistic about the chances that this will
happen. The experience of the Faire Shares Demonstration Projects and
other programs suggests that by the time many of these fathers have
been referred to or are enrolled in a fatherhood program their
relationships with their child(ren)'s mother, even when it was
originally reasonably good, has deteriorated considerably. In these
situations it is clearly very difficult to reestablish the trust,
goodwill and motivation necessary to move them toward marriage. Thus
however successful the father's ``rehabilitation'' may be, the chances
of the father marrying his children's mother may be slight. In addition
each parent has often moved on to form new partnerships. In these cases
the best that can be hoped for is that the parents will actively
cooperate around the rearing of the child(ren) they have in common,
which is a very important and positive goal.
In conclusion, I think it's fair to say that fatherhood programs
certainly have the potential to be ``pro-marriage'' through activities
that help to make them more ``marriageable''. However few of the
programs at this point have an explicit emphasis on promoting marriage
in their curriculum since marriage to their children's mother is not
viewed as a realistic or desired option for most of their participants.
However participating in a fatherhood program may make the father a
more attractive marriage partner to, and strengthen the relationship
with, their current partner. Thus while these fathers may not marry
their children's mother, they may marry their current (or a future)
On a more optimistic note, the Fragile Families study suggests that
if fatherhood programs were to explicitly target young unmarried
couples around the time of birth they might be more successful in
stabilizing the couple's relationships; this could lead a number of
young parents to marry in some cases.
Carefully designed and evaluated programs are very much needed to
learn more about what kinds of additional information, services and
supports they should provide these young parents that might encourage
and support marriage. In my judgment it would be important to include
services designed specifically for the young mothers as well as for the
fathers and services that focus on the couple's relationship. As Kathy
Edin's research suggests many of these mothers have had poor
experiences with their own fathers and with men throughout their lives.
As a result they have a great deal of mistrust of men in general, and
may have never known a couple who had a successful marriage.
One last point, some fatherhood programs are now seeking advice and
help from experts in domestic violence. I believe any fatherhood
program that wants to develop a more explicit emphasis on marriage,
should be encouraged to seek advice, consultation (and perhaps even
collaborate with) practitioners and educators who are expert in helping
build relationships skills and strengthening marriage.
I hope my responses have been helpful. I welcome any additional
questions you may have.
Senior Policy Analyst
National Partnership for Women and Families
Washington, D.C. 20009
June 5, 2001
Honorable Wally Herger,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Human Resources
Committee on Ways and Means
B-317 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Herger:
Thank you for your follow-up questions to the National
Partnership's testimony at your recent hearing on marriage and welfare
issues. We appreciated the invitation to testify at the hearing and
welcome the opportunity to offer our perspective on important welfare
policy questions. In your letter dated May 23, 2001, you posed three
follow-up questions. Those questions are listed below and our response
follows each question.
1. In your testimony, you recommend that welfare policies should be
``neutral on the subject of family formation.'' Haven't government
programs discouraged marriage in a variety of ways (taxes, ``man in the
house'' rules, etc.)? Haven't these factors contributed to rising out-
of-wedlock births and declines in marriage which contributes to
negative effects on child well-being? In short, is current policy
``neutral'' or do we need to do a better job promoting marriage just to
The National Partnership believes that welfare policies should be
neutral on the subject of family formation. Forcing families in need to
compose themselves in a specific family structure as a condition of
receiving welfare assistance would ultimately have the effect of
denying vital benefits to families at their most vulnerable. As we
stated in our testimony, to the extent that past policies have
influenced the composition of families receiving welfare assistance, we
ought not to repeat those same mistakes. Instead, we should concentrate
on developing policies that enable families to become more economically
secure, whatever their structure. We ought not to have disincentives to
marriage, but we ought not to coerce individuals into getting married
In terms of broader concerns about the rise in out-of-wedlock
births and declines in marriage over the past few years, we believe
that there are a variety of factors that have contributed to these
changes--including a complex array of societal and economic shifts--
that go well beyond the different welfare policies that have been in
2. I noted your suggestion (page 1) that ``the mission of welfare
reform should be to reduce poverty and help people achieve economic
independence, not to engage in social engineering or discrimination
against families that don't meet a particular ideal about family
composition.'' Two million children have been removed from poverty
since the welfare law passed, so the law has been successful on that
front even though ``reducing poverty'' was not one of TANF's explicit
purposes. However, as several witnesses mentioned at the hearing, three
of the four basic purposes of TANF do involve promoting marriage,
discouraging illegitimacy, and promoting the formation of two-parent
families, which you seem to deride as ``social engineering''. Are you
disagreeing with the basic purposes of TANF? Should those three basic
purposes (including marriage and family formation) be removed, in your
opinion? Should States operating programs that promote marriage or
discourage out-of-wedlock pregnancy be barred from using TANF dollars?
The National Partnership believes that the one point that should be
uncontroversial and enjoy widespread agreement is that the fundamental
purpose of a temporary assistance for needy families program is to help
families in need become economically independent and ultimately escape
poverty. The decline in the poverty rate over the last few years has
been an encouraging development that can be traced to a variety of
factors, including a strong economy and important policy changes such
as increased availability of the Earned Income Tax Credit. At the same
time, however, research indicates that many families in the lowest
economic brackets are worse off today than they were five years ago. As
we noted in our testimony, recent data, for example, reveals that
between 1995 and 1999 the inflation-adjusted disposable income of
female-headed families with the lowest incomes actually declined by 4
percent. And, analysis of Census data indicates that while the number
of children in poverty has decreased, many children who remain poor
have grown poorer. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports
that in 1998 and 1999 the average poor child fell further behind the
poverty line than in any year since 1979. Thus, while there has been
progress in poverty reduction, there is still a great deal of work to
The National Partnership supports policies that promote strong,
healthy families, regardless of their structure. To that end, we
support efforts in the context of TANF to provide supports to low
income married-couple families and eliminate policies that make it
difficult for these families to stay together. We also support programs
that help individuals make responsible choices about their personal
relationships and their decisions to form families. Rather than
promoting marriage as a ``quick-fix'' economic solution, we believe
that helping individuals make sound, reasonable decisions about their
lives will make marriages and families stronger, healthier, and more
stable. Thus, any ``marriage promotion'' policies must be considered
with the utmost care. Using marriage as an imperfect band-aid to cure
the complex problem of poverty ultimately may do more harm than good.
Most importantly, we also believe that TANF funds must be used to
provide support to all families in need and not just those families
that conform to a preferred family structure. Poor families headed by
single parents or other relatives also need assistance to ensure that
they have the best chance to leave poverty and find economic security.
3. In general, do you agree that married, two-parent households are
the best environment in which to raise children? Do you know of any
data that, in general, dispute that claim?
As we stated in our testimony, very few would disagree that having
two parents in the home working together to provide a healthy and
nurturing environment can be an ideal setting for children. But the
reality is that many children do not live in that type of environment.
Thus, we believe that it is essential to focus on providing a full
range of supports--such as quality healthcare, education, and
childcare--to improve the well-being of low-income children regardless
of family composition. Making these types of supports available to all
families in need will maximize the chances of children growing up in a
healthy, positive family environment.
Further, focusing on ways to promote strong, healthy families--
rather than simply promoting marriage as a panacea--is particularly
crucial because many low-income women have turned to welfare as their
only source of support when trying to escape domestic violence or other
abusive situations. These clients often need access to counseling and
other forms of assistance, such as training opportunities, to get back
on their feet and support themselves and their families. Coercing
clients to get married without regard to whether there is a positive
foundation for marriage will do little to promote healthy and stable
marriages, healthy and stable families, or child well-being. We believe
that research studies support the view that children are better off in
non-abusive or non-disruptive family settings that can offer a
nurturing, supportive environment.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to offer these comments. We
look forward to working with you in the near future.
Vice President for Program and Public Policy
[Submissions for the record follow:]
Statement of Alternatives to Marriage Project, Boston, Massachusetts
As a national organization for unmarried people, we believe that
the use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds to
promote marriage and discourage ``illegitimacy'' is not in the best
interests of Americans who live in poverty.
One family form is marriage, and we agree that marriage should be
supported. We believe, however, that a marriage-promoting agenda does
real damage in a nation whose strength is rooted in diversity and
tolerance. We believe that the well-being of children is critical to
our nation's future, and that to that end, all families should be
valued and all committed relationships supported. We do not believe it
is possible for public policy to promote marriage without
simultaneously stigmatizing people who are divorced, withholding
resources from single parents, shaming unmarried couples, and ignoring
the needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people for whom marriage is not
an option. Such policies disadvantage the children growing up in such
families, and deepen social inequality.
The American family is indeed in profound transition. Although
divorce rates have receded from their 1981 peak, marriage is not
gaining ground. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of families
maintained by women without legally married partners in the home
increased three times faster than did married-couple families.
``Cohabitation is the fastest-growing living arrangement in modern
society,'' observes Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin. It is far
from a childless state; scholars Larry Bumpass and Hsien Hen Lu of the
University of Wisconsin note that, ``a large share of children born to
supposedly `single' mothers today are born into two-parent
households.'' These mothers are legally single, but are living and
parenting together with an unmarried partner.
Although much of the testimony delivered at your subcommittee
meeting paints a bleak portrait of these families, in reality there are
millions of happy, healthy, unmarried families whose members are
neither ``illegitimate'' nor a threat to the social fiber of our
country. The notion that somehow compelling them to marry as a social
cure-all is simplistic and unrealistic. Longer lifespans, the economic
independence of women, and later ages at marriage have all contributed
to reducing the importance of marriage in everyday life. This is true
in nearly every industrial nation, not just the United States.
``Under these circumstances, putting all our eggs in the leaky
basket of a campaign to reinstitutionalize marriage is a risky strategy
and may even backfire,'' writes family historian Stephanie Coontz in
Newsday (5/27/01, page B8). Abundant research shows that the children
of teen moms who marry the father after birth often do worse than those
whose marital status remains unchanged, probably because the basis for
the marriage is not a sound one. Researchers overwhelming agree that
high-conflict marriages can do more damage to children than divorce.
Promoting marriage is an appealing quick fix that ignores the deep
complexity of family quality and process, which turns out to be far
more important to children's well-being than family form.
The real question here is what do real-world American families need
in order to thrive? We believe that the first item on the agenda should
be to reduce the economic stresses that contribute far more than any
other factor to family instability. Consider the Minnesota Family
Investment Program (MFIP), which allowed parents on welfare to continue
to collect benefits as long as their earnings did not go over 40% of
the poverty threshold, or about $18,200 for a family of three. An
unexpected outcome of the pilot program was that MFIP clients were more
likely to get and remain married than people enrolled in the standard
welfare system. One place to start is with the minimum wage, currently
averaging $5.15 per hour, or $10,712 per year. According to the
Department of Labor, if minimum wage had kept up with inflation over
the last thirty years, it would be $7.80 an hour today. We encourage
the Ways and Means Committee to promote an hourly wage or annual income
that enables an individual to meet his or her family's basic needs.
Helping adults become gainfully employed is another legitimate way
to foster stable two-parent households. Not surprisingly, women are
three times as likely to want to marry the father of their child if he
holds a job. Job-training programs, affordable quality child care,
health care, transportation and paid parental leave are all crucial
ingredients of a stable family life. Higher drop-out rates and more
health problems among children are the negative effects of poverty, not
In addition to a living wage and basic benefits, we believe that
other laws and policies should be available to the full range of
American families. These include domestic partner benefits, family and
medical leave, hospital visitation rights, and survivors' benefits.
Like public assistance, health care and benefits should not be
contingent on one's relationship status, marital status, or sexual
orientation. Although such policy changes will take time to effect,
they are essential if TANF block grant requirements are to address the
heart of economic and social injustice.
Given today's diversity of family forms, it is morally problematic
and logistically difficult to restrict social and economic support to
families headed by married couples. It ignores the forces of history
and the complex reality of American family life, and it penalizes those
who most need the assistance of fair and enlightened government
Ultimately, diverting welfare money to programs that promote
marriage denies basic services to millions of American children.
Programs to promote marriage disregard the fact that marriage is not
always the best choice, and may actually do harm, especially to women
who are experiencing domestic violence. We hope the committee shares
our support of principles that work toward creating healthy, loving
relationships and families for all people, married and unmarried.
The Alternatives to Marriage Project (www.unmarried.org) is a
national organization for unmarried people, including people who choose
not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage. We work
for greater understanding and acceptance of unmarried people.
Statement of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, New York, New York
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (``NOW Legal Defense'')
appreciates the opportunity to submit this testimony on the issue of
welfare reform, marriage and family formation issues. We adhere to our
long held belief that anti-poverty efforts must focus on initiatives
that will empower individuals to become economically self-sufficient
and permanently free them from poverty.
NOW Legal Defense is a leading national not-for-profit civil rights
organization with a 31-year history of advocating for women's rights
and promoting gender equality. Among NOW Legal Defense's major goals is
securing economic justice for all. Throughout our history, we have used
the power of the law to advocate for the rights of poor women. We have
appeared before the Supreme Court of the United States in both gender
discrimination and welfare cases, and have advocated for protection of
reproductive and employment rights, increased access to childcare, and
reduction of domestic violence and sexual assault.
NOW Legal Defense addresses welfare reform reauthorization from the
perspective of ending women's poverty. To this end, we have convened
the Building Opportunities Beyond Welfare Reform Coalition (BOB
Coalition), a national network of local, state, and national groups,
including representatives of women's rights, civil rights, anti-
poverty, anti-violence, religious and professional organizations.
Our testimony focuses on the policy reasons that government
involvement in personal issues of family formation will not reduce
poverty. First, focus on marriage and family formation issues sidesteps
the underlying causes of poverty, particularly the poverty of women and
children--such as lack of job training and education, discrimination,
violence and lack of childcare. Second, government pressure with
respect to highly personal decisions such as marriage is a dangerous
precedent, not just for poor women, but for all citizens who believe
that liberty entails making fundamental personal decisions without
governmental interference. While we support efforts to make public
benefits equally available to two parent and single parent families, we
oppose any effort to discriminate against single parent families in the
distribution of precious public benefits.
I. Federal and State Marriage Proposals
Both Federal and State initiatives with respect to marriage are
alarming in their invasion of personal privacy and, at the same time,
raise serious questions about the effective use of scarce government
funds and the competence of government to administer programs dealing
with intimate decisions such as marriage. We are particularly concerned
that TANF funds will be diverted away from desperately needed economic
supports, childcare and job training into questionable programs
unlikely to have any positive effect in reducing poverty.
Federal Initiatives: Proposals have been put forth to create a new
Federal Office of Marriage Initiatives within the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families
(ACF) that would target TANF, Child Support Enforcement, Family
Planning, and other program dollars to pro-marriage initiatives. In
addition, Congress is considering legislation relating to marriage and
welfare reform. Those bills include the Responsible Fatherhood Act of
2001, (S. 653/H.R. 1300), the Strengthening Working Families Act of
2001 (S. 685) and the Child Support Distribution Act of 2001 (H.R.
1471). The promotion of marriage requirement is included in all
proposed bills, despite the experience and advice of community based
fatherhood and family programs in low-income communities, especially
communities of color that such an emphasis will frustrate their work.
Although we oppose inclusion of marriage promotion as a goal in
proposed fatherhood initiatives, we applaud provisions in both S. 685
and H.R. 1471 that include crucial child support reforms, including,
among others, requiring states to pay current child support to families
who are no longer on welfare; giving states an option to convert state-
owed arrearages to the custodial parent; and giving states the option
to pass through child support to families currently receiving TANF
benefits without being penalized by the Federal government (for
families on welfare 5 years or less). The bills also provide financial
incentives to states that choose these options and that disregard the
amount of child support when determining the families' TANF
benefit.1 If Congress wishes to promote marriage, reforming
child support laws and providing supports to families is the most
appropriate method of doing so.
\1\ In addition, S. 685 increases funding for the Social Services
Block Grant, simplifies the Earned Income Tax Credit (expanding the
definition of dependents and providing a cost of living adjustment for
phase-out) and includes a new employer tax credit to encourage
State Initiatives: Recommendations have also been presented
regarding state marriage promotion and divorce reduction plans. These
recommendations include: creating State Offices of Marriage
Initiatives; using TANF funds to reduce non-marital births and divorce
by one-third within the next ten years; increasing the distribution of
TANF funds to faith based organizations for the provision of faith-
based marriage programs; and expanding chastity programs.2
\2\ Patrick F. Fagan, Heritage Foundation, Testimony Before the
Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources: the Fed.
and State Gov'ts, Welfare and Marriage Issues (2001).
Since PRWORA, states have been free to use TANF dollars to support
marriage and two-parent families. One way in which states do this is by
providing benefits to two-parent families. Currently 5% of families
receiving TANF have two or more adults, and 18% of adult recipients are
married and living together. At least fifteen states provide assistance
to two-parent families through separate State programs.3
Some states have begun using TANF dollars specifically to encourage an
increase in marriage and a reduction in non-marital births and
divorces. For example:
\3\ Temp. Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, U.S. Dept.
of Health and Human Services, Third Annual Report to Congress 111
(2000) [hereinafter TANF Report to Congress].
In Arizona, a Marriage Initiative was passed in April,
2000 that allocates one million TANF dollars for marriage skills
courses provided by community-based organizations, provides vouchers to
make marriage skills courses available to low-income couples, and
establishes a Marriage and Communication Skills Commission. The state
also has a $3.5 million abstinence-until-marriage program and Covenant
Marriage legislation under which couples promise to stay married for
life and renounce their legal right to a no-fault divorce.
Oklahoma has said it plans to earmark 10 percent of the
state's TANF surplus dollars to fund a $10 million program to encourage
marriage and reduce divorce. The implementation of the Marriage
Initiative includes a specific religious track under which state's
religious leaders sign a marriage covenant, committing themselves to
encourage pre-marital counseling for couples in their churches and
other houses of worship.
Utah recently earmarked $600,000 of its TANF surplus funds
for the promotion of marriage education over the next two years. The
legislature formed a Marriage Commission and raised the minimum
marriage age from 14 to 16, and Governor Leavitt presides over an
annual Marriage Week each February.
Wisconsin has created a ``Community Marriage Policy'' and
uses TANF dollars to fund a coordinator to work with local clergy
across the state to assist in the development of community-wide
standards for marriage solemnized by members of the clergy in that
\4\ Department of Workforce Development, State of Wisconsin,
Revisions to Wisconsin State Plan, at http://www.dwd.state.wi.us/desw2/
Again, we believe that states' efforts to support fragile families
are laudable. However, programs such as those described above may
divert funds from needed benefits programs or directly intrude on
private decision-making, going beyond appropriate public policy. At the
very least, Congress should forego any federal mandates in this area
until the impact of these programs has been carefully and independently
II. Welfare Reform Reauthorization Should Not Focus on Marriage
Welfare reform reauthorization should focus on ending poverty for
all. In order to accomplish that goal, it must focus on the barriers to
economic self-sufficiency rather than marriage. It should invest in
education, training and work supports to help families and individuals
get to a point where they can survive and prosper, whether married or
A. Reauthorization should not coerce low-income women into giving
up their fundamental rights to privacy. The Supreme Court has long
recognized that an individual's right to privacy regarding decisions to
marry and reproduce as ``one of the basic civil rights of man,
fundamental to our very existence and survival.'' 5
Significantly, this constitutional right equally protects the choice
not to marry.6 Reproductive privacy, initially honored as a
right of marital privacy,7 has been firmly established as a
protected right of the individual, irrespective of marital
status.8 According to the Supreme Court, ``if the right of
privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or
single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters
so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or
beget a child.9 This right of privacy extends to an
individual's decision whether to have an abortion or not 10
and protects individuals from government imposition of substantial
obstacles in the path of reproductive choice.11
\5\ Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541
\6\ Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967).
\7\ Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 495 (1965).
\8\ Eisenstadt v. Baird 405 U.S. 438, 453-54 (1972).
\9\ Id. at 453.
\10\ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
\11\ Casey v. Planned Parenthood, 502 U.S. 1056 (1992).
B. Congress should not discriminate against non-marital families.
Our country consists of diverse family structures: those in which
parents are married, divorced, remarried, widowed, single, gay and
lesbian. In fact, according to the United States Census, there are
currently more non-marital than marital families in our
country.12 These families that have built loving, healthy
relationships with their children and cooperative relationships with
other caregivers deserve to be valued and respected.
\12\ United States Census Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, U.S.
Dept. of Commerce News (May 15, 2001), http://www.census.gov/Press-
Women and their children represent the vast majority of people
living in poverty and on welfare.13 A confluence of factors,
including labor market discrimination, primary care responsibility, the
lack of quality, accessible, affordable childcare, domestic violence
and divorce has resulted in women's disproportionate poverty. Unequal
pay means that women make 75 cents for every white man's every dollar.
This impact is even greater on African American women, who make 65
cents on that dollar, and even more so for Latinas, who make only 54
cents. As a result, women of color are disproportionately
poor.14 Women and their children are also the majority of
people on welfare.
\13\ United States Census Bureau, Current Population Reports,
Series No. p60-210, Poverty in the United States: 1999 (2000),
available at http://www.census.gov/pord/2000pubs/p60-210.pdf.
\14\ Id. at vi.
Several welfare reform reauthorization proposals advocate for
discriminatory treatment against non-married families (the majority of
families in need of public assistance.) Wade Horn, the current nominee
for Assistant Secretary for Family Support at the Department of Health
and Human Services, has proposed that pregnant women on welfare give up
their child for adoption to married two-parent families.15
Proposals have been floated that would allow states to deny benefits to
single parent families, or to pay out benefits to married couples
first, and then give any remaining benefits to single parent families.
With the threat of reduced reauthorization funding, this is a
frightening proposition to the majority of families on welfare who are
single mothers and their children.
\15\ Wade Horn & Andrew Bush, the Hudson Institute, Fathers,
Marriage, and Welfare Reform, text associated with note 95 (1997).
The racial composition of welfare has shifted since welfare reform.
In 1996, Whites represented 35.9%, African-Americans 36.9%, Hispanics
20.8%, and Asians 3.0% of the caseload.16 By 1999, Whites
had dropped to 30.5%, while African Americans rose slightly to 38.3%,
and Hispanics grew to 24.5%.17 Asians increased slightly to
3.6% while Native Americans remained essentially constant, increasing
from 1.4 to 1.5%.18 Thus today, women of color make up two-
thirds of welfare recipients and in 20 states are more than three-
fourths of those on welfare.19 Policies targeted to
influence low-income women's behavior thus have a disproportionate
impact on women and communities of color.
\16\ TANF Report to Congress, supra note iii, at 115.
\19\ TANF Report to Congress, supra note iii, at 127.
This is especially insidious when viewed in light of a long history
of discriminatory practices aimed at denying African-American's rights
to reproduce and marry, including the denial and destruction of the
African-American family during slavery, the long delay in defining rape
against African-American women a crime, the refusal to recognize
African-Americans' right to marry at all, followed by the denial of the
right to marry if the choice of spouse was a white person.20
Against that backdrop, practices that manipulate the reproductive and
marital rights of African-American women are especially suspect.
\20\ See Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
C. Domestic Violence. When considering marriage as a solution for
poverty, Congress must face the reality that violence against women is
one of the main causes of women's poverty. Domestic violence makes
women poor and keeps them poor. The majority of battered women attempt
to flee from their abusers.21 Many end up on welfare or
homeless. Study after study demonstrates that a large proportion of the
welfare caseload (consistently between 15% and 25%) consists of current
victims of serious domestic violence.22 Between half to two
thirds of the women on welfare have suffered domestic violence or abuse
at some time in their adult lives.23 Over 50% of homeless
women and children cite domestic violence as the reason they are
\21\ See Patricia Horn, Beating Back the Revolution, Dollars and
Sense, Dec. 1992, at 21.
\22\ See Jody Raphael & Richard M. Tolman, Taylor Inst. and the
Univ. of Mich. Research Dev. Ctr. on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health,
Trapped by Poverty, Trapped by Abuse: New Evidence Documenting the
Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Welfare, 12 (1997).
\23\ See Mary Ann Allard et al., McCormack Inst., In Harms Way?
Domestic Violence, AFDC Receipt and Welfare Reform in Mass., 12, 14
(1997) (64.9% of 734 women); Ellen L Bassuck et al., The
Characteristics and Needs of Sheltered Homeless and Low-Income Housed
Mothers, 276 JAMA 640 at 12, 20 (1996) (61.0% of 220 women); William
Curcio, Passaic County Study of AFDC Recipients in a Welfare-to-Work
Program: A Preliminary Analysis, 12, 14 (1997) (57.3% of 846 women).
\24\ See Joan Zorza, Woman Battering: A Major Cause of
Homelessness, 28 Clearinghouse Rev. 383, 384-85 (1994).
For these women and their children, the cost of freedom and safety
has been poverty. Marriage is not the solution to their economic
insecurity. For them marriage could mean death; it will almost
undoubtedly mean economic dependence on the abuser. Many battered women
are economically dependent on their abusers; 33-46% of women surveyed
in five studies said their partner prevented them from working
entirely.25 Those who are permitted to work fare little
better. Ninety-six percent reported that they had experienced problems
at work due to domestic violence, with over 70% having been harassed at
work, 50% having lost at least three days of work a month as a result
of the abuse, and 25% having lost at least one job due to the domestic
violence.26 Thus, battered women are overwhelmingly either
totally economically dependent on the abuser or are economically
unstable due to the abuse.
\25\ See United States General Accounting Office, Report to
Congressional Committees, Domestic Violence: Prevalence and
Implications for Employment Among Welfare Recipients, 7 (1998).
\26\ See Joan Zorza, Woman Battering: High Costs and the State of
the Law, 25 Clearinghouse Rev. 421 (1991).
Those who would promote marriage in every circumstance sometimes
claim that marriage decreases domestic violence. This idea may result
from a lack of understanding regarding the dynamics of domestic
violence, separation and divorce. Domestic violence is about power and
control. Marital separation is experienced as a loss of control by the
batterer, and thus separation or divorce frequently incites batterers
to increase the danger of abuse for the battered women.27
Because much of this violence against the survivor is perpetrated
before and after visits, children's exposure to this violence is
increased.28 While supervised visitation centers have been
utilized as an avenue for allowing visitation between batterers and
their children, there are not enough supervised visitation centers and
in many cases the security in those centers is inadequate, staff is not
trained in domestic violence, and women and children are abducted,
harmed, or killed. Thus, even supervised visitation centers are not
\27\ See Einat Peled, Parenting by Men Who Abuse Women: Issues and
Dilemmas, Brit. J. Soc. Work, Feb. 2000, at 28.
\28\ See id.
Congress has repeatedly recognized that domestic violence is a
serious national problem and has made efforts to minimize the severe
risk to women and children from that violence, most recently by
reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act last year. We urge you to
reject marriage and family formation proposals that ignore the very
real risks of violence. Precious federal dollars should not go to
programs that may contribute to the problem of violence against women
that this Congress has taken great strides to ameliorate.
D. Marriage does not address the root causes of women's poverty and
is not a reliable long-term solution to women's poverty. In general,
two incomes are better than one and thus more likely to move people off
of welfare. But that fact is not sufficient to support an argument that
marriage will lead to an end to family poverty. Because of death,
divorce, and job instability, marriage does not provide insurance of
women's economic security. Approximately 40% of marriages end in
divorce 29 and 12% due to the husband's death.30
Even those who conceive of marriage as the solution to poverty
recognize that when marriages fail, women fall into poverty while men
do not. As noted above, the cause of the failure of many marriages is
\29\ The National Marriage Project, Annual Report: the State of Our
Unions: the Social Health of Marriage in America, 2000 (June 2000),
available at http://marriage.rutgers.edu/NMPAR2000.pdf.
\30\ United States Census Bureau, Current Population Reports,
Series No. P20-514, Marriage Status and Living Arrangements: March 1998
(Update) (2000), available at http://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/p20-
The reasons that women, not men, experience an economic downfall
outside of marriage include: discrimination in the labor market,
primary care giving responsibility without attendant employment
protections, the lack of quality, affordable, accessible childcare, and
domestic violence. Without addressing the factors that keep women from
being economically self-sufficient, marriage and family formation
advocates are merely proposing to shift women's ``dependence'' from the
welfare system to marriage. With domestic violence and divorce at their
current rates, such marriage is not the answer.
The Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) supports this policy
approach. MFIP covered welfare-eligible single and two-parent families
and focused on participation in employment-focused services for long-
term welfare recipients combined with financial incentives to encourage
and support work. These work supports include childcare, medical care,
and rewarding work by helping the family to develop enough earning
power to survive financially without cash assistance before cutting
them off. Studies compared former AFDC recipients to those on MFIP and
found that MFIP individuals were 40 percent more likely to be married
at the 36-month follow up, and nearly 50 percent less likely to be
divorced after five years. The outcomes of the MFIP program suggest
that allowing families to combine welfare and work, and providing work
supports to help individuals become economically secure, strengthened
marriage and reduced the chance of divorce.31
\31\ Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. (MDRC), chap. 6,
available at http://www.mdrc.org/Reports2000/MFIP/MFIP-Vol-1-Adult.pdf.
III. Welfare Reform Reauthorization Should Focus on Ending Poverty
Welfare reform reauthorization must focus on ending poverty. Most
of the families who have left welfare remain in poverty and the bottom
20% of families are doing worse economically than they were before
welfare reform. Families who have left welfare and are working are
still by and large poor. Similarly, families who are reliant on welfare
are subsisting on income well below the poverty line. Poverty reduction
rather than reduction of the welfare rolls must be the major
legislative goal of reauthorization. At a minimum, the TANF block grant
needs to be reauthorized at the present funding levels to provide work
supports to support families who lose jobs in case of recession.
Moreover, lifetime time limits do not make sense in the light of what
we know now about the welfare caseload: those who can get jobs have
done so; those remaining on the rolls need more time to prepare for
non-supported work. A recession may mean that those who did exactly
what they were supposed to do--get jobs and leave welfare--will lose
their jobs and need income support. Time limits should not deprive
families of assistance that they need to survive, especially when all
other program requirements such as work outside the home are met. A
blueprint for reauthorization with the goal of ending women's poverty
by addressing the issues that cause poverty is attached as an appendix
to this testimony.
The solution to poverty is not to interfere with basic privacy
rights of poor women but rather to focus on economic self-sufficiency.
Decisions regarding marriage and childbearing are among the most
private decisions an individual can make. Congress must not use women's
economic vulnerability as an opportunity to control their decisions
regarding marriage and childbearing. Fighting poverty and promoting
family well-being will depend on positive governmental support for
policies that support low income parents in their struggle to obtain
and retain good jobs while at the same time providing the best possible
care for their children. It is important to focus government resources
and efforts on reduction of poverty, not on interference with personal
family formation decisions.
A BLUEPRINT FOR SOLUTIONS TO WOMEN'S POVERTY--GOALS FOR REAUTHORIZATION
Welfare Reform Reauthorization Should Insure Family Privacy
Eliminate promotion of marriage as an anti-poverty goal;
Recognize that marriage is not the solution to poverty and
focus on empowering individuals to have the economic freedom to choose;
Ensure that welfare reauthorization does not discriminate
Eliminate the family cap in all states;
Replace ``Abstinence-Only'' programs with comprehensive
sex education programs;
Repeal the ``Illegitimacy'' Reduction Bonus;
Make paternity establishment voluntary, not required;
Support child support and EITC reforms.
Welfare Reauthorization Should Address the Causes of Women's Poverty
Insure Movement Into Jobs That Will Lift Families Out of Poverty,
Employment Rights, and Workplace Protections by:
Insuring use of the Self-Sufficiency Standard to measure
outcomes for welfare leavers.
Targeting good jobs that are available in the local
economy and provide education and training necessary to obtain and
retain those jobs;
Allowing education and training to count as work
participation under TANF.
Protecting basic employment rights for TANF recipients.
Stopping the time limit clock for working families who
still need income support.
Address Violence in the Lives of Poor Women by:
Mandating that all states implement the Family Violence
Providing incentives for successful implementation of
programs for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Prohibiting sanctions against victims of domestic and
Encouraging use of emergency assistance for victims of
domestic and sexual violence.
Insure Adequate Childcare and That No Family Suffers for Lack of
Strengthening provisions protecting families from
sanctions if they do not have childcare.
Strengthening procedures to get childcare subsidies to
TANF families and welfare leavers.
Limiting childcare co-fees for poor parents.
Stopping the clock for families who cannot find
Increasing childcare funding.
Value caregiving of children as real, socially important work by:
Allowing the full-time parenting of pre-school age or
disabled children to count as work participation under TANF.
Making the child tax credit refundable.
Specifically authorizing states to provide in-home
Raising rates for childcare providers.
Reform child support collection and distribution by:
Making child support cooperation requirements voluntary.
Insuring appropriate levels of obligation for non-
Insuring that families on welfare receive some of the
money paid by the fathers.
Disregarding any child support payments passed through to
a family receiving benefits.
Insuring that families that have transitioned off welfare
receive all child support they are owed before the state reimburses
itself for past assistance.
Employ a comprehensive high performance bonus that rewards states
for moving families out of poverty, not off the welfare rolls.