A cabal of UCLA psychologists has gathered together to bring us a brand new marriage study, which finds that poor people in America value the institution just as much as their fellow middle class and high-income citizens. Published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the study aimed to figure out whether or not $1 billion in federal money was being spent wisely as part of the federal government's "healthy marriage initiative" to promote marriage and family values among the poor. Since poor Americans might even value marriage more highly than members of the middle and upper classes, the general consensus seems to be that all that money could probably be used for something else, like a giant, public waterpark (!) in one of the more arid states.
UCLA professor of psychology and senior study author Benjamin Karney explains that a lot of government policy is based on incorrect assumptions about the poor, namely, that they're morally depraved and need to be taught about the virtues of the two-parent household. "However," says Karney,
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 thinks that the U.S. is spending too much time hectoring poor people about the importance of marriage when, really, they already think it's important. That, however, raises another question, which is: if marriage is so important to poor people, why are they having so many babies out of wedlock? It just doesn't make sense! If you want something, doesn't that ipso facto mean it's totally going to happen for you? Karney points out that the disconnect isn't as strange as it seems. He uses lying as an illustrative example, i.e. a lot of people think lying is bad, but they do it anyway. He also says that poor people postpone marriage precisely because they value it so highly.
Why are low-income women postponing marriage but having babies? Because they don't want to get divorced. 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.
Single parenthood also isn't stigmatized among the poor the way it is on the pages of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times — young women in poor neighborhoods see succesful single mothers all the time and know that they can raise a child without the help of a spouse they don't necessarily think they'll want to stay with forever. Karney says, "[These women] may have been raised by a single mother, and people all around them were raised by single mothers. They see single-parent families that succeed, and they see the role of mother is valued." The value system of a young middle or upper class woman, though, tends to see an unplanned, out of wedlock pregnancy as an impediment to college or career plans.
The study, which relied heavily on phone survey data from about 6,000 low, moderate, and high-income people in Florida, California, New York, and Texas, also found that low-income couples experience the same marital tensions as do middle and high-income couples. Lead author Thomas Trail also found little evidence to support the assumption that poor people have unrealistic expectations of marriage. If anything, they're more pragmatic about marriage, which means that the government ought to get off their dicks and maybe use that billion dollars to fund some more women's health clinics. Or build a health clinic/birth-canal-themed water park that features two dueling water slides called "the fallopian tubes."
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