Marriage Measures Guide of State-Level Statistics. Introduction

In the past decade, policymakers and researchers have become increasingly interested in social programs that promote and support healthy marriages.В  A growing body of research evidence suggests that marriage has benefits for families and children, including improved economic well-being and mental health, and that children raised in two-parent families perform better in school and have more positive developmental outcomes than children from single-parent families (Amato and Booth 1997; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994; Waite and Gallagher 2000; Wood et al. 2007).В  Inspired in part by these potential benefits of marriage, a wide range of programs have been developed to encourage and support healthy marriages (Dion 2005).

Reflecting this growing interest in healthy marriage programs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has recently sponsored efforts to expand the understanding of the effectiveness of these programs and to support their expansion through funding and technical assistance, as part of the Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI).В  For example, the HMI currently supports three large-scale, multi-state demonstration projects:В  (1) Building Strong Families, an evaluation of programs to help expectant unwed couples fulfill their aspirations for a healthy marriage and a stable family life; (2) Supporting Healthy Marriage, a project to develop and test healthy marriage programs for low-income married parents; and (3) the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, an evaluation of community-level interventions to support healthy marriages.В  In addition, with funding from the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, DHHS has awarded grants to a diverse range of state and local agencies to increase access to healthy marriage programs and raise awareness of the potential benefits of marriage for families and children.

As interest in healthy marriage programs continues to grow and new programs are developed, a key issue policymakers and program operators will face is deciding which populations to serve.В  Healthy marriage programs aim to serve a broad mix of target populations, including expectant unmarried parents, low-income married parents, high school students, engaged couples, single adults, and other groups.В  The design and content of the programs can vary substantially, depending on which of these populations are served.В  Policymakers will also need to make choices about whether to focus their programs on specific social or demographic groups, such as residents of certain cities or counties, individuals living in rural or urban areas, or members of certain racial/ethnic groups.

The Marriage Measures Guide is designed to assist policymakers and marriage program operators with this decision making process.В  Drawing on data from several sources, the guide provides policymakers and program operators with a broad range of state-level statistical information they can use to better assess the characteristics and needs of their state populations, identify high-priority target populations, and make informed decisions about the design and implementation of their healthy marriage programs.В  The guide can also help policymakers decide which healthy marriage programs are best targeted to their statewide populations and which are more appropriate for local or targeted groups.В  In addition to these uses for the development and implementation of healthy marriage programs, the guide also serves as a general resource for anyone wanting to better understand current marriage patterns in their state.

This chapter provides a general introduction to the guide and the best ways to use it.В  To make the most of the guide, users should read this chapter carefully before turning to the statistical tables.В  The chapter begins by describing the overall content and layout of the guide.В  It then describes in greater detail the content of the statistical tables and explains how to correctly interpret each statistic.В  The chapter ends with a brief discussion of additional resources.В  A more detailed discussion of the various data sources and methods used to construct the statistical tables appears at the end of the guide in the Technical Appendix.

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