Research Suggests Views on Marriage are more Traditional among Poor People
According to a report from UCLA psychologists, poor people hold a more traditional view toward marriage and divorce compared with people of high or moderate income. This finding was a result of a large survey conducted about marriage, relationships, and values. It calls into question the effectiveness of the US Government program which spent $1 billion dollars to promote the value of marriage among the poor. Given the results that the poor hold a traditional value of marriage, is it fair to say that the government program was a success? Or was it a waste of money, unnecessary for this demographic?
"A lot of government policy is based on the assumption that low-income people hold less traditional views about marriage," said Benjamin Karney, a UCLA professor of psychology and senior author of the study. "However, the different income groups do not hold dramatically different views about marriage and divorce — and when the views are different, they are different in the opposite direction from what is commonly assumed. People of low income hold values that are at least as traditional toward marriage and divorce, if not more so."
The study conducted by the UCLA researchers consisted of interviews with over 6,000 people of varying incomes across four states: Florida, California, New York, and Texas. The majority of participants were in Florida. The interviews were conducted by phone, where people were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements.
Low income people held more traditional values with the following statements:
"Divorce can be a reasonable solution to an unhappy marriage."
"It's better for a family if the man earns a living and the woman takes care of the family."
"A husband and wife should be of the same race or ethnic group."
The question is then, if poor people hold more traditional views on marriage, why is it that their marriage rates are lower and out-of-wedlock births are higher than those of higher incomes? Karney explains that it is because values do not predict behavior, and there are real reasons why the two don’t always match up.
In many instances, the notion of motherhood is completely separated from the notion of marriage. Young women feel that they can raise a baby on their own and having a father is not essential. Also, a poor young women may not have many options for moving up the economic ladder, so having a baby will not hinder a career path. It can actually provide the mother with respect, purpose, and someone to love her.
The billion dollar federal investment is being spent on educational curricula for relationship skills and values. Instead, argues Karney, that money should be spent on enhancing social mobility. Teaching relationships in the classroom is based on false assumptions. The federal money would be better spent helping poor people with the day-to-day challenges in their lives.
This study titled "What's (Not) Wrong With Low-Income Marriages" has been published in the Journal of Marriage and Family
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