Should We Expect Marriage Education Impact to Show up in Divorce Statistics?


February 26, 2014

By Patty Howell, President

Healthy Relationships California

Our work at Healthy Relationships California sheds a significantly different perspective on the value of Healthy Marriage and Relationships programs than the recent attention-grabbing pieces such as "Federal funds to foster healthy marriage have little effect, study finds". 

Five years of data analyzed in our recent Impact Report show very strong positive outcomes across all types of participants in Relationship and Marriage Education (RME) classes.  This Impact Report evaluates outcomes from RME programs in California across more than 17,000 participants, and is, by far, the largest study in the field of Relationship and Marriage Education.  Seventy pages of data reveal the positive impact of these classes on people’s lives, including outcomes such as the following (pg. 11):   

  • 60% of married participants were satisfied with their relationship after participating in an RME (Relationship and Marriage Education) course, increasing to 69% of married participants 6 months after the course;
  • 52% of highly distressed married participants experienced a significant decrease in relationship distress after taking an RME course;
  • Unmarried participants from the lowest income bracket (under $15,000) increased their communication skills by 80%, while married participants from the lowest income bracket saw a 67% increase in these skills;
  • Hispanics, Caucasians, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and all other ethnic groups included in this study experienced a 20% or greater increase in relationship satisfaction, communication skills and problem-solving skills;
  • Hispanic participants experienced noteworthy positive impact, increasing their relationship satisfaction by 44%, their communication skills by 68%, and their problem-solving skills by 54% after participating in RME;
  • TANF recipients experienced lower rates of domestic violence, and reported significant increases in communication skills and job efficacy, after completing an RME program.  

While it’s attractive for media to grab public attention with headlines such as the one above, it is not realistic with the current level of Federal funding for Relationship and Marriage Education work to have even these kinds of positive results show up in the divorce statistics because of the relatively low saturation level we are able to reach in comparison with the number of married people in the population. With the funding allocated to grantees such as our organization, the Administration for Children and Families requires us to serve several different target populations, (in our case 5), including Youth and Singles/unmarried participants.  Accordingly, for Healthy Relationships California, of the 28,885 people we served this past year, 12,000 were married participants, 21% of whom identified themselves as "highly distressed" about their marriage as they began the Relationship and Marriage Education program.  Accordingly, approximately 2,500 of our participants were in the "likely to divorce" category against a pool of 14,000,000 married Californians.  

The fact that our programs show 52% of this "highly distressed" population to be happy with their marriage at the end of the 8-16 hour Relationship and Marriage Education course is a huge win!  Yet, that important result can never be expected to show up against the total number of married Californians until we have sufficient funding for this work that enables us to reach a critical mass.


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Partial funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant: 90FE0104. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.