Studies show marriage education classes are providing significant benefits for low-income couples, many of whom have been impacted by job losses and financial stresses. With expectations that unemployment will remain elevated, programs that strengthen marriages are becoming increasingly important to helping couples keep families intact as they pursue training, job opportunities, and await economic recovery.
An April report by the Congressional Budget Office reviews research on short and long-term effects of involuntary job loss based on predictions that unemployment will remain elevated for a number of years. While the report focuses on providing an overview of government programs that help people who have lost their job, it also raises concerns about broader potential consequences, including studies that indicate people who lose a job “tend to have more health problems later in life, their family life can suffer, and entire communities may struggle, especially if job loss is concentrated in particular geographic areas.”
Research has also shown that job loss regularly includes consequences beyond the individual, impacting family ties, friendship networks, and other aspects of the person’s social network, sometimes producing a cascade of subsequent strains in personal and family relationships. A 2000 study from the University of Michigan found that job loss leads to increased depression, anxiety, reduced perceptions of competence, decreased self-esteem, and is associated with increased risks for aggressive behaviors that can manifest in spousal abuse, child abuse and contribute to psychiatric disorders.
The reports highlight the importance of strengthening marital ties, family life, and social networks during periods of economic stress. As individuals who have become unemployed pursue training, employment, social networking, and related efforts to mitigate the effects of changes in employment status and loss of income, marital and family stability becomes an increasingly vital resource.
Recent studies on the impact of brief, skills-based educational programs designed to enhance marital stability indicate a positive contribution to couples experiencing economic, marital, and family distress.
A study by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation on the impact of brief marriage education classes (9 – 12 hours) on low-income couples found that skills-training designed to improve interpersonal communication, emotional understanding and expression, bonding, empathy and healthy conflict resolution led to improved relationship cohesion and stability for 77 percent of participants with greater than 90 percent reporting improvements in overall relationship satisfaction six months after program completion. A similar study found a 37 percent increase in couples always agreeing on issues of family finance and an 87 percent improvement in agreements on career decisions.
Stephanie Berman-Eisenberg, President of Miami’s Carrfour Supportive Housing, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of housing and supportive services to low-income and formerly homeless individuals and families, said relationship skills classes have been important to helping residents rebuild their lives.
“We’ve seen firsthand the powerful impact PAIRS classes have had on formerly homeless adults. As they learn skills to strengthen relationships with family members and neighbors, they’re much better prepared to pursue employment and self-sufficiency.”
The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center recently published an overview of findings about marriage and finance, addressing questions related to the connection between financial problems, marriage, and divorce.
Marriage education programs are offered nationwide by coalitions, community and faith-based organizations through funding provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The programs seek to help couples, who have chosen marriage for themselves, gain greater access to marriage education services, on a voluntary basis, where they can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to form and sustain a healthy marriage.
In 2006, as part of the National Healthy Marriage Initiative, PAIRS Foundation received a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant to provide skills training to individuals, couples and high school students in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. To date, over 5,000 people have participated in classes offered in English, Spanish, French and Creole with ongoing research showing positive, lasting benefits for diverse populations. Many programs in South Florida and throughout the nation are available for free or at reduced cost as a result of grant funding.
- ACF Healthy Marriage Initiative
- National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
- California Healthy Marriage Coalition
- PAIRS Foundation