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

OPRE Report 2018-58
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Jun 12, 2018
Authors
Quinn Moore, Sarah Avellar, Ankita Patnaik, Reginald Covington, and April Wu

Key impact findings of the project include the following:

  • The Healthy Marriage programs in Parents and Children Together (PACT) improved multiple aspects of the couples’ relationships. The programs improved the couples’ relationship quality, including the level of commitment partners felt toward their relationship and the level of support and affection they felt toward each other. There is also some evidence that the programs helped couples avoid destructive conflict behaviors, although the programs did not improve relationship happiness or the use of constructive conflict behaviors.
  • The programs increased the likelihood that couples were married at the one-year follow-up by about 4 percentage points (63 percent for the program group versus 59 percent for the control group). Exploratory analysis indicates that this increase in marriage resulted from preventing couples who were married at baseline from breaking up rather than encouraging marriage among those who were not initially married. 
  • The programs improved couples’ co-parenting relationships. Couples in the program group reported higher values on a scale measuring the degree to which they felt they worked well together in raising their children. The programs had more limited success in improving the economic outcomes of participants. There is mixed evidence that the programs improved women’s earnings during the follow-up period. The programs did not affect men’s earnings or their perceptions of economic improvement.
Economic and other challenges faced by low-income families can make it hard for them to achieve a stable, low-conflict family environment. Recognizing this challenge, as well as the potential benefits of healthy marriages and relationships for low-income families, the federal government has funded programming to encourage healthy marriage and relationships for many years. To expand our understanding of what works in healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programming, the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded, and ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation oversaw, a contract with Mathematica Policy Research to conduct the PACT evaluation. The PACT Healthy Marriage impact study includes a large-scale, random assignment examination of two HMRE programs funded and overseen by OFA. This report discusses the impacts of these programs about one year after study enrollment on (1) the status and quality of the couples’ relationships, (2) their co-parenting relationships, and (3) their job and career advancement.