- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

Getting unwed parents to marry, as the Bush administration would like to see happen with $1.5 billion in welfare funds, is going to be difficult, says a study of poor, unwed parents in Louisiana.

The “magic moment” — the time of a baby’s birth when unwed parents might be receptive to pro-marriage services — “may be much shorter than anticipated,” said Dana Reichert, Ron Mincy, Hillard Pouncy and Phil Richardson in their Louisiana Fragile Family Study, issued this month.

“These families have a lot of barriers and just giving them marriage skills isn’t really going to do a lot to help change their lives,” said Ms. Reichert, director of the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families welfare program. “It’s a lot more difficult than the Bush administration is leading people to believe.”

More than 70 percent of the unwed, low-income couples in the study said they had been cohabiting or in an exclusive relationship when they became pregnant. However, only 40 percent of the 2,000 couples surveyed remained in the relationships five months after the children’s births.

Relationships typically deteriorated over money, work, sexual fidelity, “relationships with other people” and “spending time together,” the study found.

The study has national implications, Ms. Reichert said. For instance, it showed that any pro-marriage intervention would have to start long before a child is born because “the majority of these relationships don’t survive the pregnancy,” she said. Intervening at the birth of a child “is really too late.”

Second, a lot of mothers and fathers already have one or more children by someone else, and these “other” relationships can complicate a couple’s plan for a life together, Ms. Reichert said.

Finally, many low-income couples, while not opposing marriage, are ambivalent “and even afraid of it,” she said. “What they really want is help with getting a job and help with managing dynamics with their other partner.”

The findings are less optimistic than those from the national, federally funded Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, conducted by researchers from Princeton and Columbia universities.

The national study has found that most unwed parents are in romantic relationships at the time of birth and maintain the closeness for one to two years. This research has led to the notion of a “magic moment” — that unwed couples so hopeful about a life together when their children are born that pro-marriage discussions, classes or mentoring could help them decide to commit to marriage.

Since February 2002, the Bush administration has asked that $300 million a year in welfare funds be used to promote healthy relationships and marriages, especially in low-income communities. The House and Senate finance committees have included such a provision in their five-year welfare-renewal bills.

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