In recent decades, there has been a widening gap between higher rates of marital instability for economically disadvantaged couples and lower rates for nondisadvantaged couples. In addition, out-of-wedlock birth rates have risen, while evidence has grown that children fare better, on average, when raised by both of their parents in stable low-conflict households. All of these trends were important rationales for the development of a federal Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) within the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Through grants to a range of state and local agencies, the HMI emphasizes provision of marriage education, a voluntary preventive service aimed at providing interested couples with skills and information that may help them to develop and sustain successful marriages and relationships.
In this working paper, we introduce the Supporting Healthy Marriage (SHM) evaluation — the first large-scale, multisite experiment that tests marriage education programs for low-income married couples with children. The SHM conceptual framework recognizes multiple sources of relationship strength and weakness, and the project’s program model has followed this framework closely in adapting the content and delivery of marriage education services for low-income married parents. Eight sites (with some sites spanning multiple organizations) are operating SHM programs around the country. SHM is testing a relatively intensive and comprehensive form of marriage education designed specifically for low-income families. Its year-long program model packages a series of marriage education workshops with additional family support, including case management, supportive services, and referrals to outside services as needed. The evaluation includes two interrelated substudies — one focusing on sites’ experiences in implementing the SHM model and the other measuring program impacts on marital quality and stability, child well-being, and a range of other outcomes.