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Bottom line, she said, it would be terrible if people looked at these big studies and somehow concluded that marriage and fatherhood programs didn’t work or were a waste of money.

Mrs. Ooms’ point, especially, resonates. In 2006, I was permitted to spend time “inside” one of these big studies in Baltimore. I witnessed the passion and dedication of the outreach workers, study staff and teachers, and, most importantly, the genuine desire of the couples — all of whom were new parents — to improve their relationships.

It would indeed be a shame if researchers only asked, “Did you marry (or divorce)?” Some of the most profound scenes I saw were men and women bravely choosing to buck their dysfunctional family histories and neighborhood mores and adopt new attitudes and behaviors for the sake of each other, their children and their relationships.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at