Poor people hold more traditional values toward marriage and divorce than people with moderate and higher incomes, UCLA psychologists report in the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family. The findings are based on a large survey about marriage, relationships and values, analyzed across income groups. They raise questions about how effectively some $1billion in government spending to promote the value of marriage among the poor is being spent.
”A lot of government policy is based on the assumption that low-income people hold less traditional views about marriage,” said Benjamin Karney, a UCLA professor of psychology and senior author of the study.” However, the different income groups do not hold dramatically different views about marriage and divorce — and when the views are different, they are different in the opposite direction from what is commonly assumed.
People of low income hold values that are at least as traditional toward marriage and divorce, if not more so.”
Karney, who is co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, added: “The United States is spending money teaching people about the value of marriage and family, and we are saying, congratulations, the battle has been won.” The study consisted of 6,012 people, 29.4 percent of low income, 26 percent of moderate income and 34.7 percent of high income.
Low-income people hold much more traditional attitudes about divorce and are less likely to see divorce as a reasonable solution to an unhappy marriage, Karney said. One area where low-income groups are less traditional, he said, is on the acceptability of single parenting.
But these findings raise an obvious question: If poor people hold traditional values about marriage and divorce, why are their marriage rates lower and their out-of-wedlock births much higher than those of higher incomes? The answer, Karney said, is that values often do not predict behavior, and they don’t in these areas. He noted that most people do not consider lying to be a good value, yet large numbers of people lie nevertheless. Low income women are postponing marriage but having babies becaus
They think if they marry their current partner, they are likely to get divorced —
and couples that have financial strain are much more likely to have marital difficulties. Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow is psychology and lead author of the study said that lower income partners are no more likely to struggle with relationship issues than
are higher income partners. “They have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples,” he said.
The study, titled “What’s (Not) Wrong With Low-Income Marriages,” is based on data collected in 2003, after the federal government began a “healthy marriage initiative” that still exists.