People With Low Incomes Marry Less But Divorce More

July 12, 2012

Individuals with lower incomes and lower socioeconomic status value the institution of marriage just as much as their counterparts with higher incomes and have the same romantic standards for marriage. However, when compared to those with higher socioeconomic status, low-income populations in the United States have lower marriage rates and higher divorce rates, a new study has revealed.

According to the research led by Dr. Thomas Trail and Dr. Benjamin Karney from the University of California, the government initiatives to strengthen marriage among couples with low incomes should do much more than just promote the value of marriage and instead concentrate on the real problematic issues that low-income families face.

The authors noted that previous studies have analyzed specific low-income communities including single mothers and cohabiting partners with kids, but their investigation appears to be the first to use a comprehensive survey and compare the attitudes and experiences of individuals with low- and high-incomes. The results provide very important and interesting new information about how similar people from a range of incomes are in their standards, experiences and values of marriage.

More than 6,000 participants took part in the survey, the majority being residents of Florida, with the remaining participants residing in California, Texas and New York. Of all the volunteers 66 per cent were women, 53 per cent were married and 61 per cent were white. A further 14 per cent were African Americans and 19 per cent represented either non-white or Black Latino and Hispanic communities. The interviews were carried out over the phone and lasted on average for about 27 minutes.

Within these interviews, researchers found that the average age of the respondents was 46 years or less. Self-reports allowed the authors to classify 29 per cent of the participants as low-income, 26 per cent as moderate-income and 35 per cent as high-income. Less than 10 per cent of the surveyors reported receiving temporary assistance for needy families (TANF).

When compared to individuals with higher incomes, those with lower incomes were found to have more traditional attitudes towards marriage and were less likely to approve of breakup or divorce. In addition, the surveyors with lower incomes were more likely than their higher income peers to value the economic aspects of marriage, such as both spouses having good jobs.

In spite of the fact that both low- and high-income couples reported having similar romantic standards and similar problems when it came to relationship communication, low-income respondents were more likely to say that their romantic relationships were affected in a negative way by economic and social issues, which included money problems as well as problems with alcohol and drug use.

Dr. Karney and Dr. Trial said that though the federal government has made efforts to somehow battle the declining rates of marriage in lower income populations and have spent nearly one billion dollars on initiatives in order to strengthen the institution of marriage, they often concentrate on the incorrect subject matter. Very often the federal government assumes that there is something wrong with how people in lower socioeconomic status view marriage. Researchers suggest that what the federal government should actually focus on is social issues, such as drug abuse and drinking problems which can cause a great amount of stress and strain in a marriage.

The study is published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Tags: Marriage, Breaking Up & Divorce, Career & Money

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