Pro-marriage initiatives may well perpetuate the cycle of poverty, rather than arresting it.
Beyond the scope of governmental initiatives, this study provides new knowledge about the cycle of poverty. The study itself is hampered, in that there are far too many critical variables not identified or addressed in the data they rely on for their research, such as: siblings and step-siblings and their numbers/ages/genders/birth order/behavioral impact upon the family; extended family and their involvement with the child, including the biological father (if not the man who mother married, if indeed the mother married a man at all!); the neighborhood/school/external support system available to the child; the tangible goods and foodstuffs available to the child, his/her health and access to appropriate care; history of trauma, disability, developmental delays and temperamental variances, the ages of the parents, and their own histories, etc. Given the magnitude and number of such key factors not mentioned in the study, it seems doubtful that a strong correlation could be made between maternal marriage and academic achievement. The study does, however, afford the researchers the opportunity to discern a notable disparity within their sample: while maternal marriage amongst lower income and less educated people seemed associated with lower levels of academic achievement for the reporting child, maternal marriage among higher income and higher educated people seemed to produce a benefit, at least within the limited age range of the sample.
This may suggest that the marriage of two disadvantaged people has the potential to compound problems faced by their children (instead of lessening them, as the social strategists would suggest) whereas the marriage of two advantaged people might enhance their children’s achievements. It is a simplistic hypothesis, but provocative. If this is true—and further research will have to address this—the very governmental initiatives that purport to benefit the poor may in fact ensure that the well-to-do are buffered and the poor remain mired within the confines of the cycle of poverty with the challenges of one generation influencing and compounding the next.
Clements, M., Gershoff, E., Veliz, P., & Wagmiller Jr., R.L. (2010). Does Children’s Academic Achievement Improve When Single Mothers Marry? Sociology of Education. 83(3), 201-226.
*Haley Markam is a sophomore recently accepted into the Nursing Class of 2016 at The College at Brockport. This post was originally submitted in Dr. Eric Kaldor’s Introduction to Sociology course (SOC100) in the spring 2014 semester as a project helping students learn more about the process of searching for and evaluating social scientific research.