Most marriage-promotion programs for lower-income single mothers focus on improving relationship skills or increasing employment. However, little information exists on the long-term effects on marriage of more direct anti-poverty approaches.
Implemented in two Milwaukee neighborhoods in the mid to late 1990's, the New Hope Project provided participants--low-income parents working 30 hours a week or more--the following benefits over a three-year period: a wage supplement that brought their income above the poverty line; child care and health insurance subsidies; a minimum-wage community service job for those unable to find work on their own; and support from program representatives for finding and maintaining work. The program ended in 1998.
Gassman-Pines and Yoshikawa evaluated the New Hope Project's impact on marriage using an experimental, random-assignment design of 400 single mothers. Single mothers assigned to the New Hope condition in a lottery-like process were eligible for all of the programs' benefits, while those assigned to the control condition were not. In a comparison of the two groups five years after random assignment, 21 percent of the New Hope program group reported being married, while only 12 percent of the control group reported being married. The study period was 1996 to 2001.
"Our results show that marriage is not simply a matter of values, but also economics," said Yoshikawa. "The New Hope Project, which boosted both work and income, nearly doubled the probability of marriage among never-married mothers. Marriage promotion programs currently underway should test income support and poverty reduction as promising avenues toward increasing marriage rates among single mothers."