Issue Brief: Exploring the Role of Partners and Spouses in the Decisions of Social Service Clients

Publication Date: December 15, 2010


Although social service programs have historically tended to focus on low-income parents as individuals, many of these parents have an intimate partner or spouse. This study investigated the role of partners and spouses in the decision-making processes of social service clients. Direct observation of clients’ interactions with their partners/spouses showed that whether married or unmarried, low-income individuals in couple relationships affect each other’s decision-making behavior in ways similar to those in married, middle-class families. The observed influence of partners may extend to program-related decisions such as take-up, participation, and behavior change. More research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine whether and under what circumstances partners are likely to undermine or support the program-related behavior and decisions of social service clients. The study findings suggest that it may be important to account for the potential influence of a client’s partner in designing, delivering, and evaluating program services.

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