• Sept / Oct 2006
  • Vol. 7, No. 7

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Enhancing Unmarried Couple Relationships to Improve Parenting

Intervention programs designed to strengthen unmarried couples' relationships and to promote healthy marriage could potentially further strengthen families by increasing positive parenting for young children, according to a recent study. While the association between a positive partner relationship and better outcomes for children has been shown in extensive research with married couples, this study found similar results with unmarried biological parents.

Longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study were used to explore relationship quality and parenting in 732 married and 1,351 romantically involved but unmarried couples. Both mothers and fathers were interviewed shortly after the birth of their child and 1 year later. Interviews included measures of supportiveness and conflict in the relationship and, at 1 year, measures of engagement with the child and harsh punishment.

A number of findings attest to the spillover effect of parents' relationship skills on parenting and child well-being:

  • Supportiveness in the parents' relationship was associated with higher engagement with the child for both married and unmarried couples.
  • Relationship quality was just as important for parents having a second or third child as for parents having a first child.
  • The effects of relationship quality on parenting were similar for both mothers and fathers.
  • Married couples showed a slightly higher relationship quality than unmarried couples.

The authors suggest that programs designed to strengthen couples' relationship skills and to encourage marriage could potentially result in an increase in positive parenting for young children.

The full report, "Strengthening Unmarried Families: Could Enhancing Couple Relationships Also Improve Parenting?" by M. J. Carlson and S. S. McLanahan, appears in the June 2006 issue of Social Service Review 80(2).

Related Items

Children's Bureau Express (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov) examined the impact of marriage on parenting in the following articles:

  • "Supporting Marriage to Improve Child Well-Being" (March 2006)
  • "ACF Releases New Report on Healthy Marriage Initiative" (July/August 2005)
  • "New Studies Show Marriage Improves Living Standards for Children" (December 2002/January 2003)

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