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Welfare reform hasn't led to more marriage - yet

Policy changes didn't produce more two-parent families, latest data show. Should US do more to push for vows?

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If the Bush administration is looking for more support for its controversial $1.5 billion marriage-education proposal, two new studies could help make its case.

The studies, published in the journal Demography last month, suggest that current welfare polices are having little effect on encouraging marriage and two-parent families.

Results like that are what fuel the Bush camp's argument that strengthening marriages needs to be addressed head on by the government, if the nation is to further whittle the number of people on welfare.

"My overall conclusion, from looking at these studies - and they're consistent with others - is that when it comes to marriage, doing nothing doesn't work," says Wade Horn, assistant secretary for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. "So let's try doing something."

The latest research shows that fewer new marriages have happened since the 1996 welfare reform law was passed. (There have also been fewer divorces.) But current policies are doing little to keep women from becoming or remaining single parents.

Interest in those issues is high, because the 1996 welfare reform law set out to encourage more unions and two-parent homes - in part by making marriage more economically attractive.

The tepid results aren't a surprise to Dr. Horn. "Almost nothing has been done in the context of welfare reform, until very recently, in support of the goals of the 1996 legislation, which included support for the formation of two-parent married households," he says.

The president's proposal, which could be adopted by Congress when it eventually reauthorizes the welfare reform law, would allocate $1.5 million over a five-year period to implement marriage-education programs aimed at helping low-income couples better handle conflicts in their relationships. The program hopes to encourage those who are single to get married and those who are married not to divorce.

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