Is $7,000 Too Much for the Government To Spend on Improving a Marriage?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 25 2012 5:53 PM

Is $7,000 Too Much for the Government To Spend on Improving a Marriage?   

1340660724793
Can the government afford to help this marriage?

Shutterstock/auremar

Should the government be in the relationship seminar business? And, if so, how much should it spend to improve a marriage?

Mother Jones has a great piece today checking in on the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative, a $150-million-a-year program launched (hilariously as part of the Deficit Reduction Act) during the Bush administration to help low-income couples work on their marriages and encourage poor, unmarried parents to get hitched. After seven years, Health and Human Services is finally reporting some results and they are not good. Mother Jones notes that the program for unmarried couples “produced precisely zero impact on the quality of the couples' relationships, rates of domestic violence, or the involvement of fathers with their children.”

Advertisement

Outcomes are pretty depressing across the board, and it’s tempting to frame this as religiously-motivated wasteful spending by the party whose entire thing is supposed to be about not spending wastefully. And that it is! But there is also a positive result: In the initiative’s other program, the one aimed at already-marrieds, couples actually did see a small bump up in relationship happiness after taking the government-funded course. That course costs the taxpayer $7,000 to $11,500 per couple, a number Jezebel calls “astronomical” and prompts Mother Jones to ask: “Imagine how much happier the couples would have been if they’d just been handed cash?”

Yes, money is at the root of many marital problems. And, yes, that is a lot of money for the cash-strapped federal government to spend. But why the casual dismissal of the one OK result? Presumably most of the parties chastising the Healthy Marriage Initiative or validated by its terrible outcomes are fine with, if not supportive of, middle-class and wealthy families spending that kind of cash ($150/week for a year = $7,800) on family therapy or marriage counseling. Those same parties might even argue that insurance should cover such therapy (and likely would reject a “just give 'em cash money” approach to improving their own marriage). Then why not want the same opportunity provided to poor families? Certainly, it’s not the government’s job to push couples into a wedding. And certainly counseling is not a magic cure for a bad marriage. But for those already committed who can’t afford resources to help them stay that way, is it so terrible for the government to pay for a little of their happiness?  

Allison Benedikt is a Slate senior editor. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 23 2014 1:46 PM The Real Secret of Serial Has Sarah Koenig made up her mind yet? 
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.