During the last half of the 20th century, divorce rates more than doubled, reaching a peak in the 1980s that has since declined only slightly. Over the same period, rates of cohabitation (i.e., unmarried couples sharing a household) have greatly increased and, perhaps as a consequence, the average age at which people are getting married has risen significantly. As much as these trends have affected all segments of society, they have been especially pronounced within low-income populations, suggesting that forming and sustaining a healthy marriage may be uniquely challenging in the context of economic disadvantage.
The Healthy Marriage Initiative. Concern about the potential social impact of these trends has motivated community leaders and policymakers to initiate programs and policies to encourage and support healthy marriages, especially among low-income populations. At the federal level, these efforts began in 1996 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Among the goals of the law were to “encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families” and to “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting …marriage” (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, 1996, Section 401). When this measure was renewed in 2006, the new legislation allocated $750 million to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for activities that promote and support healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood. Recent funding announcements for this initiative have targeted low-income populations. Thus, a substantial level of federal and state resources will soon be devoted to efforts to support and strengthen marriages in low-income communities.