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Poor value marriage, are more traditional in some ways than wealthier counterparts

Published: Friday, July 13 2012 8:17 p.m. MDT

Not everyone thinks government should promote marriage, but it does, Trail said, prompted in part by the cost of government safety net programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Particularly for women on the edge financially, divorce is one of the leading predictors of entry into poverty; promoting marriage is one way to counter that. But if that's the goal, he said, focus should be on programs that make a difference.

Cultural changes

Losing a job or struggling to pay a loan can be a real strain on marriage, said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, who was not involved in the study. Still, the norm that used to sustain marriages in low-income communities has changed and couples are less likely to stick with a marriage when they encounter an economic problem or when a spouse has a drinking problem. But the culture has changed, too.

"The idea that it's simply economic or social problems doesn't adequately address the fact that there has been shift in culture that makes wanting to stay married less likely to see them through," he said.

Across income brackets, Wilcox noted, marriage aids family wellbeing. "I think most kids long to know and be known by their own married parents and to love and be loved by their own married parents. In cases where there's an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional parent, it may be better not to have that parent on the scene, but in most cases it's better to figure out a way to be married before you have children and once you have children. Research suggests that kids are served by not having parents get divorced. In most cases, (couples) need to figure out a way to navigate the challenges."

Signs of light

"It's not all gloom and doom," Trail said. "Some states that are implementing programs are not only trying to help people with their marriage interactions with one another, but if you need drug treatment, they provide it.... Some states are better at addressing problems, but that should be the norm, rather than the exception" of program that try to impact marriage.

Unlike earlier studies that focused on low-income "subsets" like unmarried mothers or parents, the UCLA study is reportedly the first to look across income levels to compare "values, standards and experiences" in marriage.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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