Study: Couples who receive government assistance report less marital satisfaction

posted at 11:25 am on September 8, 2011 by Tina Korbe

Like Fanny Price’s mother in Mansfield Park, those who marry for love only to live in poverty might actually advise singles to seek out a marriage of money and convenience. Studies have repeatedly shown that low-income couples report less marital satisfaction and commitment.

But, fortunately, through programs like Medicaid and food stamps, the government provides assistance to the needy — and that surely helps those on the low end of the income scale to experience a little more joy in married life, right? Wrong. A new study from the University of Missouri shows that couples that experience the combination of earning low incomes and receiving government assistance had even lower levels of marital satisfaction and commitment than couples earning low incomes but not receiving government assistance:

“We found that there’s a unique relationship among income level, government assistance and marital satisfaction and commitment,” said David Schramm, assistant professor in Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. “The study confirms that low income does have a negative impact on marital quality, but there are additional factors as well. The relationship between income and marital satisfaction is influenced by other issues, including whether or not the couple receives some form of government assistance.”

In the study, couples with low incomes (less than $20,000 per year) scored significantly lower on five of the six dimensions of marital quality: overall satisfaction, commitment, divorce proneness, feelings of being trapped in a marriage, and negative interaction. Married individuals who received government assistance reported similar scores. Couples that experienced the combination of earning low-incomes while receiving government assistance had drastically lower levels of overall marital satisfaction and commitment.

It’s pretty easy to see why earning too little money to comfortably cover expenses strains a marriage. As Schramm put it, “Economic hardship, the feeling of strain and tension associated with money issues, tends to be a driver for other stressors. For example, if couples can’t pay the bills, then they are likely to be more irritable and stressed about other areas of life. This leads to negative interactions between spouses or individual feelings of being trapped because they can’t survive on their own. It’s a constant drain on many aspects of marital quality and overall well-being.”

It’s less easy to see why government assistance would further weaken sentiments of satisfaction — until you consider the issue through the prism of happiness research. Ever since I heard American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks speak at a Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing more than a year ago, I’ve been enamored with his most hopeful of messages: Earned success is, in fact, the surest path to happiness. And Brooks has the research to prove it. Maybe, just maybe, couples receiving government assistance, conscious that they didn’t earn that assistance, experience a diminished self-worth as a result.

The University of Missouri study doesn’t posit reasons for the lack of satisfaction in government-assisted unions, but it does make note of the fact that few studies have looked at the link between such assistance and marital satisfaction and encourages further research. Schramm also said, based on his findings, he plans to implement an education program that targets low-income couples who receive government assistance. This program will provide additional resources for the couple, including healthy relationship and wellness education, employment training and financial planning. I like the sound of that — it’s vital that folks know the facts, in this and in everything — but I can’t help but hope that Schramm will include a work component in the program. That is, I hope he “provides” these resources in return for some kind of work from recipients. Perhaps they could perform basic research assistance for Schramm or do some simple gardening about the University of Missouri. Perhaps, after they complete the education program, they could turn around and help teach it. Just something that enables them to feel they’ve earned a spot in the program and haven’t just been handed it because they happen to be poor and dissatisfied.

Just as throwing more money at education has done nothing to raise test scores, so throwing more resources at those already experiencing a diminished self-worth at the lack of earning won’t make them happier. The worth of work for the dignity it imparts to its performers must again be espoused — over and against the lie that material advantages alone are at the root of the greater satisfaction reported by higher-income couples. True freedom to pursue happiness — necessarily through work — exists only where redistribution of wealth doesn’t rob those who do work from the joy of keeping the fruits of their labor and doesn’t rob those who lack materially from realizing that not all money is equal and it’s not handouts that will solve their problems — it’s earned success.


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The Obama’s receive federal assistance…wonder how they are doing?…

PatriotRider on September 8, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Everything, and I mean everything the govt touches turns to shit.

angryed on September 8, 2011 at 11:29 AM

I don’t know how Peggy Joseph feels about this.

a capella on September 8, 2011 at 11:29 AM

All four of them??
This is because government assistance actually undermines marriage. A woman on welfare might indeed look upon a husband as a liability and resent his presence.

MassVictim on September 8, 2011 at 11:29 AM

The operative word here is “couples.” The self esteem of the “single folk families” is probably much higher.

The worst degredation comes when you no longer notice that you’ve been degraded.

It’s called attitude, or if you’re a Democrat, culture!

Don L on September 8, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Earned success is, in fact, the surest path to happiness.

I know it’s simplistic, but I really think that’s why so many wealthy celebrities hate themselves and this country so much while still receiving millions of dollars and living lifestyles most people would love to live. They deep down feel that they haven’t earned their success, and therefore remain unhappy. This also makes them feel like anyone who’s wealthy didn’t earn their success and therefore it’s ok to vilify them.

DrAllecon on September 8, 2011 at 11:32 AM

A new study from the University of Missouri shows that couples that experience the combination of earning low incomes and receiving government assistance had even lower levels of marital satisfaction and commitment than couples earning low incomes but not receiving government assistance

Has a study been done – or does this one examine – the effect of assistance of any type? In other words, is the “government” part of the assistance the critical factor or do couples who receive private charity or help from their families also show this effect? My guess is that it’s the assistance component that matters the most, not the source of the assistance.

Y-not on September 8, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day……….

Koa on September 8, 2011 at 11:32 AM

A new study from the University of Missouri shows that couples that experience the combination of earning low incomes and receiving government assistance had even lower levels of marital satisfaction and commitment than couples earning low incomes but not receiving government assistance.

Perhaps these couples were not availed of the concept that they are stimulating the economy with the government assistance they are provided.

Were they made aware of this bit of ‘knowledge’ brought forth by the current administration, their marital bliss would be eternal.

/

VibrioCocci on September 8, 2011 at 11:33 AM

I guess nobody told them that a man taking care of his family was a outdated sexist concept worthy of derision. That might make them feel better.

John Deaux on September 8, 2011 at 11:34 AM

They deep down feel that they haven’t earned their success, and therefore remain unhappy.

DrAllecon on September 8, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Or maybe money couldn’t cure the problems they had before they became wealthy.

VibrioCocci on September 8, 2011 at 11:37 AM

OT..just breaking from the WSJ..the FBI and the energy Dept. are searching the campus,several buildings, of the Soyyndra corp headquarters…ohh..this could be very interesting

galtg on September 8, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Or maybe money couldn’t cure the problems they had before they became wealthy.

VibrioCocci on September 8, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Very true, too. Both theories could explain why lottery winners more often than not do not handle being suddenly presented with large sums of money with little to no effort.

DrAllecon on September 8, 2011 at 11:41 AM

sorry make that the Solyndra corp

galtg on September 8, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Maybe it’s time to update the old adage of “money can’t buy happiness” to “money can’t buy happiness, but poverty is guaranteed to piss you off.”

Meric1837 on September 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM

“Who’s your Daddy”?

The gubmint!

Key West Reader on September 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM

OT..just breaking from the WSJ..the FBI and the energy Dept. are searching the campus,several buildings, of the Soyyndra corp headquarters…ohh..this could be very interesting

galtg on September 8, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Do you have a link? Can’t find anything.

Key West Reader on September 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM

I’m not surprised. People get lazy when they’re not made to work for/at something.

mmcnamer1 on September 8, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Key West Reader

it came over my dj newswire at 11 37..here’s the headlines:

WSJ: FBI: Executing Search Warrants At Solyndra Headquarters

DJ FBI Searches Part Of Joint Investigation With Energy Department

WSJ: FBI: Searching Multiple Buildings At Solyndra Campus

WSJ: Solar-Panel Maker Solyndra Filed For Bankruptcy After Winning DOE Loan

galtg on September 8, 2011 at 11:53 AM

OT: Union thuggery in action

ConservativePartyNow on September 8, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Why do we need a study to know that selfish people make for bad nates?

NotCoach on September 8, 2011 at 11:55 AM

A sense to entitlement is not a good personality trait to bring into marriage.

CDeb on September 8, 2011 at 11:56 AM

Do you have a link? Can’t find anything.

Key West Reader on September 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM

Mercury News

Koa on September 8, 2011 at 11:56 AM

I suspect this is more of a correlation thing than a causation thing.

Paul-Cincy on September 8, 2011 at 12:02 PM

I was just sent this comic. It’s kinda funny and kinda sad.

Fallon on September 8, 2011 at 12:05 PM

I think the “earned success” element of your reaction to this study’s findings is a bit of reaching and reads like you’re simply pointing to this as validation of something you already thought. There is some there there, but I think you over emphasize the significance.

Schramm also said, based on his findings, he plans to implement an education program that targets low-income couples who receive government assistance. This program will provide additional resources for the couple, including healthy relationship and wellness education, employment training and financial planning.

With regard to this bit above, Schramm is hardly breaking ground in any way and I’d say he was late to the party. Community development practitioners are way out ahead of him in rolling out such efforts, like the Centers for Working Families, an approach that is getting results.

Political Season on September 8, 2011 at 12:26 PM

A sense to entitlement is not a good personality trait to bring into marriage.
CDeb on September 8, 2011 at 11:56 AM

And it’s a lot worse thing to bring into parenthood.

Remember: the government doesn’t pay benefits for being married. The government pays benefits for having children.

Of course Welfare husbands and wives make life Hell for one another….

But their little “meal tickets” have it a lot worse.

logis on September 8, 2011 at 12:38 PM

Ah! A Jane Austen reference. I like that.

INC on September 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM

Study: Couples who receive government assistance report less marital satisfaction

Interesting study. Now, pedal the idea on the campaign trail that public assistance should be cut off in order to increase the self esteem of those out of work and I’m sure that’s the GOP’s beeline to the White House.

Dr. ZhivBlago on September 8, 2011 at 4:26 PM

This is a no-brainer. A competent independent person is much more attractive in general. And this is another unseen product of Obama’s contribution to America – people aren’t getting off the way they used to.

I wonder if Michelle is finding Barry somewhat less exciting nowadays.

disa on September 8, 2011 at 5:48 PM