The current economic and political climate provides a vivid contrast with the circumstances of the 1990s, when the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) ushered in welfare reform during a period of unprecedented economic expansion and job growth (Blank 2002; Ziliak 2009). This legislation sought to “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.” Among PRWORA’s goals were to reduce out-of-wedlock births and encourage the formation of two-parent families. For most states, much of the initial emphasis on self-sufficiency was placed on “work first” programs (i.e., moving poor single mothers into the labor force) rather than on marriage promotion (Blank 2002; Lichter and Jayakody 2002). However, with the 2006 reauthorizing legislation (i.e., Deficit Reduction Act of 2005), the federal government now provides 150 million dollars annually for healthy marriage initiatives and fatherhood programs. An explicit goal is to increase the share of children living with both biological parents in a “healthy” marriage. Indeed, a stable marriage is often viewed as a pathway from poverty and welfare dependency (Lichter, Graefe and Brown 2003; Roberts and Martin 2010).

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2010-04

Notes/Citation Information

A preliminary draft of this paper was presented at Conference on Appalachia and the Legacy of the War on Poverty: A Research Agenda, University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, Lexington, KY, October 2, 2009. The authors acknowledge support from the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research and Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology, as well as the helpful comments of Sharon Sassler and Richard Turner.