- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

More than 70 percent of Oklahoma welfare recipients say they would consider going to relationship-education classes a "huge endorsement" for government efforts to promote marriage, says an author of a groundbreaking state survey on marriage and divorce released yesterday.

The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's new survey "has national implications," said Scott M. Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and one of seven authors of the study.

One of the big issues in welfare reform is whether government should fund programs that specifically promote healthy marriages, Mr. Stanley said.

The Oklahoma survey addressed this when it asked 2,323 adults, including 303 Medicaid clients, about their views of marriage, divorce and cohabiting, he said.

It found that 85 percent of Oklahomans think a statewide effort to promote marriage and reduce divorce is a "good" or "very good" idea; 66 percent would consider going to relationship-education classes.

These results which also showed that 72 percent of Medicaid clients would consider taking relationship classes are a "huge endorsement" of marriage education by people, regardless of their marital status, racial group or income level, Mr. Stanley said.

The Oklahoma survey was released at the Smart Marriages, Happy Families Conference, sponsored by the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. The conference, which is the nation's largest gathering of marriage specialists, continues today through Sunday at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington.

Wade F. Horn, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for children and families, said the Oklahoma survey contradicts reports that there's "no evidence" that low-income couples have any interest in marriage education.

"Nearly three-quarters of low-income adults said, 'Yes, these are services we would think about accessing,'" Mr. Horn said.

The Bush administration has proposed allocating up to $300 million a year in welfare funds for programs that specifically promote healthy marriages. The House passed such a measure in its welfare bill in May.

A Senate Finance Committee bill sets up a similar grant program, but allows money to go for teen-pregnancy prevention, domestic-violence prevention and other welfare services in addition to marriage education.

The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative was created in 1999 after Gov. Frank Keating learned that Oklahoma's sluggish economy was linked to its high divorce rate. Mr. Keating earmarked as much as $10 million of the state's unused welfare funds for the marriage initiative.

Christine A. Johnson, director of the Oklahoma State University Bureau for Social Research, said the marriage survey cost $150,000.

One of the Oklahoma survey's findings that many unhappy married couples who stick it out become happier dovetails with another report on divorce, released yesterday by the Institute for American Values.

The IAV report, "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages," found that two-thirds of unhappy couples are happy five years later if they don't divorce.

"We could find no evidence that divorce or separation typically made adults happier than staying in an unhappy marriage," said lead author Linda J. Waite, who will talk about the report today at the Smart Marriages conference.

The Oklahoma study found that 34 percent of married couples had seriously considered divorce. Of these still-married couples, 92 percent said they were "glad they were still together."

"These are very parallel findings from different methodologies," said Mr. Stanley, who also worked on the IAV paper. They show it's not true that "once a marriage is down, it's out," he added. "There's a lot of people who stuck it out and they're not miserable; they're happy."

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