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Effects of Two Healthy Marriage Programs for Low-Income Couples: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation

April 1, 2019
Strengthening Families, Healthy Marriage & Responsible Fatherhood
Parents and Children Together (PACT) Evaluation, 2011-2020 | Learn more about this project
Effects of Two Healthy Marriage Programs for Low-Income Couples: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation Cover
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  • File Size 538kb
  • Pages 3
  • Published 2019


Research shows that parents and children tend to fare better on a range of outcomes when they live in low-conflict, two-parent families. Recognizing the potential benefits of healthy relationships for low-income families, Congress has funded three rounds of grants for Healthy Marriage (HM) programs since 2006. The Office of Family Assistance (OFA), in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awards and oversees the grants, which aim to promote the well-being and long-term success of children and families by fostering parents’ relationship stability and economic well-being. To learn more about the effectiveness of HM programs, OFA funded, and ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation oversaw, a contract with Mathematica Policy Research to conduct the multicomponent Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation. This evaluation included a large-scale, random assignment examination of two federally funded HM programs serving low-income couples that received grants in 2011. This brief presents the impacts of these programs about one year after study enrollment on:

  1. the status and quality of the couples’ relationships
  2. the co-parenting relationships
  3. job and career advancement.

Primary Research Question

  1. 1 What is the effect of offering HMRE services to low-income couples on (1) the status and quality of the couple relationship, (2) co-parenting, and (3) job and career status?

Key Findings and Highlights

Compared with usual services available in the community, the HM programs in PACT:

  • improved couples’ relationship quality, including relationship commitment and support and affection, although they did not improve relationship happiness
  • helped couples avoid destructive conflict behaviors, although they did not improve use of constructive conflict behaviors
  • increased the likelihood that couples were married at the one-year follow-up
  • improved co-parenting, as measured by the degree to which couples reported they believed they worked well together in raising their child(ren)
  • did not affect men’s earnings or their perceptions of economic improvement; improved women’s self-reported earnings, but not earnings based on administrative data


From July 2013 to April 2015, the PACT HM study team randomly assigned 1,595 eligible couples, with equal probability, to either a program group that was offered the HM program services or a control group that was not. The control group received information about other services in the community and could choose to participate in those.

To estimate the overall effect of the HM programs in PACT, the study team tested the difference in average outcomes between program and control group couples. The study team measured outcomes using data from three sources:

  1. baseline surveys completed by each member of the couple when he or she enrolled in the study
  2. follow-up surveys conducted with each member of the couple about a year later
  3. administrative employment records collected from the National Directory of New Hires, a national database on employment and earnings maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement.


ACF initiated PACT to expand our understanding of what works in programming that promotes healthy relationships and marriage. The positive findings from the PACT HM study indicate that HM programs can be an effective strategy for improving the relationships of low-income couples. The HM programs in PACT had success in improving couples’ relationships but more limited success in improving their economic outcomes.


Moore, Quinn, Sarah Avellar, Ankita Patnaik, Reginald Covington, and April Wu. (2018). “Effects of Two Healthy Marriage Programs for Low-Income Couples: Evidence from the Parents and Children Together Evaluation.” OPRE Report Number 2018-58. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Last Reviewed: March 28, 2019