Promoting Marriage Experimentation: A Class Act?

16 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2011

See all articles by Julie A. Nice

Julie A. Nice

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: 2007


For nearly sixty years, the federal government maintained a policy of preventing or discouraging receipt of welfare by two-parent families. In its massive overhaul of welfare in 1996, Congress reversed course and declared its new policy was to promote marriage for welfare recipients. With great fan fare, the Bush Administration pledged $1.5 billion to support a healthy marriage initiative for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. As Professor Nice reveals, however, the marriage promotion policy is not what it seems to be. For example, in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, Congress quietly reinstated a marriage penalty by authorizing sanctions against states that failed to meet a thirty-five hour weekly work requirement on 90% of two-parent families as compared to the more lenient 50% work rate for other families. Moreover, most marriage promotion funding has not been allocated toward direct incentives for welfare recipients to marry but instead has supported cheaper advertising and educational campaigns designed to persuade poor Americans to marry and stay married. Professor Nice argues that spending funds on promoting marriage is exactly not what is needed, however, especially considering social science data such as the important study by sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas that found poor women already aspire to marry but feel they cannot afford marriage. Professor Nice further demonstrates that social science data regarding marriage and poverty are insufficient to justify the marriage promotion experiment due to serious weaknesses in methodology of past studies and current gaps in knowledge. She concludes that such flawed experimentation affecting the private lives of welfare recipients is tolerated precisely because of their class.

Keywords: welfare law, poverty law, marriage

Suggested Citation

Nice, Julie A., Promoting Marriage Experimentation: A Class Act? (2007). Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 24, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Julie A. Nice (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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