Catalog of Research: Programs for Low-Income Couples

Publication Date: July 1, 2013
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In the past few decades, research showing the advantages to children of being raised by both parents in healthy, stable relationships has led to an increase in couple-based programs designed to enhance relationship or co-parenting skills. The Strengthening Families Evidence Review (SFER) identified and reviewed studies of family strengthening programs. This catalog contains summaries of studies that describe and analyze marriage and relationship education or other programs for couples with low income.


This catalog compiles information from 55 studies of 39 programs. Each study description provides details on the research, such as study design and characteristics of those included in the sample, and of the programs, such as structure, staffing and operations, and recruitment and retention. Also included in each study description is a rating based on the likelihood that the estimated effects are the result of the program rather than other factors.

Key Findings and Highlights

Of the 55 studies, 8 have high or moderate ratings, 18 have low ratings, and the remaining 29 are unrated studies, either because they do not include participant outcomes or they are additional sources and overlap with a rated study. Studies that received a high rating provide strong evidence that the program studied led to outcomes that can be attributed to program services and were different from what would have occurred without the program. Although there is no clear evidence that programs in studies with low ratings or those that are unrated led to outcomes of interest, the studies provide information on services and approaches that have been implemented, and descriptive information about operational successes and challenges (e.g., those related to recruitment and retention). The programs they assess are potentially promising or innovative but have not yet undergone evaluations that establish the extent to which they result in positive outcomes for participants.


Most of the studies analyze participant outcomes—for example, status of and satisfaction with relationships—but vary in the strength of their evidence for determining whether the programs themselves caused the reported outcomes. To help readers assess the strength of the evidence on outcomes, we rated the studies based on the likelihood that the estimated effects are the result of the program rather than other factors, such as natural change over time. The ratings categories—high, moderate, low, and unrated—are based on each study’s design, execution, and analysis. Studies that only focus on aspects other than participant outcomes, such as program operations and implementation, are unrated.


Avellar, Sarah, Andrew Clarkwest, M. Robin Dion, Subuhi Asheer, Kelley Borradaile, Megan Hague Angus, Timothy Novak, Julie Redline, Heather Zaveri, and Marykate Zukiewicz (2013). Catalog of Research: Programs for Low-Income Couples, OPRE Report # 2012-09, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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