Friday, April 14, 2017

Jennifer M. Randles's "Proposing Prosperity?"

Jennifer M. Randles, author of Proposing Prosperity?: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family formation trends.

Randles applied the “Page 99 Test” to Proposing Prosperity? and reported the following:
From page 99:
Chelsea made it clear she was not giving Simon an ultimatum that he needed to have a high-paying job before she would marry him. She just wanted him to be employable. Though Chelsea was willing to pay off his $5,000 [in traffic fines] if and when she had the money, Simon seemed like too much of a risk to marry until those traffic fines were paid off.
In 1996, Congress overhauled welfare policy to promote work, marriage, and responsible fatherhood for American families living in poverty. This led to the creation of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative—often referred to as marriage promotion policy—which has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country. I observed over 500 hours of healthy marriage classes, analyzed 20 government-approved marriage education curricula, and interviewed low-income parents—including Chelsea and Simon—who took classes.

Though healthy marriage policy is premised on the idea that developing relationship skills creates better marriages, which in turn lead to financial prosperity, the low-income couples I interviewed believed that marriage represents the culmination of prosperity, not a means to attain it. As Chelsea elaborated, “I didn’t dream about getting married, but now that I’m getting older and having babies, now I feel like [my son’s] mom and dad should be married, but I want Simon to have his license first….That’s one of the biggest problems in our relationship.” Chelsea knew marriage would not solve their financial or relationship problems, and she, like almost all of the other parents I interviewed, told me they could neither afford nor prioritize marriage until they were more financially stable. I detail their relationship stories to illustrate how financial challenges lead to curtailed commitments, especially when marriage between two economically unstable partners seems like a bad financial risk.

Though parents frequently challenged instructors’ claims that marriage could help them, they did find the classes useful. Participants experienced the classes as a rare opportunity to communicate free of the material constraints that shaped their lives and relationships. Hearing other low-income couples talk about their challenges with love and money normalized parents’ intimate struggles and allowed them to better understand how relationship conflict and unfulfilled hopes for marriage are shaped by poverty. Low-income parents’ experiences with marriage classes point to how relationship policies would likely be more useful if they focused more on how economic stressors take an emotional toll on romantic relationships and less on promoting the dubious message that marriage directly benefits poor families.
Learn more about Proposing Prosperity? at the Columbia University Press website.

Writers Read: Jennifer Randles.

--Marshal Zeringue