GET READY: Govt Media Campaign: Holding Up The Value of Marriage - 2/18/09
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Wed Feb 18 12:53:35 EST 2009
Remember when we started out way back in 1997 and we'd do a big high five,
cart wheels and a big TAH DAH if the *M word* even made it into the media?
The high fives were few and far between. Times have changed. Go to the
website and you can see the graphic that accompanies today's USA TODAY story
on the Govt-funded marriage-benefits campaign. Imagine this graphic in full
color taking up the whole top of the front page of the USA Today's Life
section..... the Statue of Liberty holding aloft a wedding cake topped with
a bride and groom. And, just imagine all the radio and TV coverage this
will generate. Paul Amato has already been interviewed by CBS News and will
be on CNN this afternoon. Get ready, all of you, for calls from your local
media OR BETTER YET get proactive and call them.
The media, of course, always leaves some of us moaning and groaning like
this mornings emails from healthy marriage folks dismayed that the article
*didn't even mention the whole rationale behind the initiative which is how
marriage impacts child well-being*. But reporters and editors choose their
spin and have to keep things interesting....and aren't going to print
everything just the way we'd prefer. HOWEVER, this big splash gives us a
great opening - is where we can come in: We can say YES there are great
benefits to marriage - great benefits to men and women, and kids, and to
society AND THEN we can fill in the most exciting information: the
information that was left out of this story: That we now know HOW people can
improve their odds of attaining these beneficial, long-lasting, stable,
healthy marriages - can marry with confidence. We would be cruel to promote
the benefits of marriage tell people it will make them healthier,
wealthier, happier IF we didn't also know how to tell them how to greatly
improve their odds of creating and sustaining marriage.
What's interesting are the analogies and how they break down. It's said that
the marriage-benefits campaign is like campaigns on smoking cessation or
seat belts. Well, yes and NO. This is more like a campaign that would
first have to convince young people that being able to avoid lung cancer or
avoid being splattered all over the highway is a good thing. I guess the
reporter thinks that after you get their attention, then you might mention
that there are now ways to do that - seat belts and smoking cessation. Or,
this just shows how far into the dark ages we are about marriage - the
reporter found people who would say *marriage may have run its course, no
longer fits the times....we have to wait and see, get over it, smell the
coffee* or that *supporting marriage disadvantages singles* and they're
going to put a stop to that. It's actually marriages that fail to form and
marriages with a 50% failure rate that no longer fit the times and are
something we all want to get over - to educate ourselves beyond this
unacceptable mess - we're all sick of the emotional and financial fallout.
And, the truth is that strong marriages help everyone the entire society
including those that choose to remain single. It takes a lot of strong,
stable, healthy marriages to create and sustain a village. And it conserves
tax dollars if parents can provide their kids with their own head start and
housing and keep them out of jail and so on and so on and so on.
What's clear is our job: As Marriage Educators we must come right behind
this benefits-of-marriage campaign with the good news that we actually have
skills and behaviors by which young adults (and old adults) can succeed at
marriage and avoid marriage cancer of being splattered all over divorce
court. It is our job to get the research-based, skill/behavior-based, HIGHLY
AFFORDABLE information about HOW TO DO IT it out there. And, this is a new
era - a research-based Marriage Renaissance that goes beyond the usual
preaching that couples have to *be committed* and *work at keeping their
love alive*. The good news is we can now show couples HOW commitment
behaves and how to do the work of marriage: WHICH behaviors are highly
predicted to keep love alive and WHICH are highly predicted to run their
love off into the ditch.
Hope you catch this wave. Let me hear if you made it into your the media.
- HOLDING UP THE VALUE OF MARRIAGE
Federally funded ad campaign aimed at conflicted young adults
By Sharon Jayson
USA TODAY - February 18, 2009
Marriage has turned into quite a quandary for many young adults. Should
they or shouldn't they? Can they escape divorce? Will moving in together
forestall a breakup?
These conflicted feelings haven't gone without notice in Washington.
Carrie and Joe Burns of St. Louis are 24 and 26. They met when she was 16
and he was 18 and dated for eight years. Then they lived together for nine
months. Then they were engaged an additional 18 months. They finally got
married in August.
For Katie D'Hondt, 18, of Grosse Pointe, Mich., "marriage isn't something I
think about right now." The University of Michigan freshman hasn't yet even
decided on a major.
The average age at first marriage is now almost 26 for women and 28 for
men. And a growing percentage of Americans aren't marrying at all:
Provisional federal statistics released Tuesday report 7.1 marriages per
1,000 people in 2008, down from 10 per 1,000 in 1986.
Faced with such numbers, the federal government is funding a $5 million
national media campaign that launches this month, extolling the virtues of
marriage for those ages 18 to 30.
"We're not telling people 'Get married' but 'Don't underestimate the
benefits of marriage,' " says Paul Amato, a Pennsylvania State University
sociologist and adviser to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center,
which is spearheading the campaign.
The resource center, a federally funded virtual clearinghouse, works under
an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services'
Administration for Children and Families.
Research suggests a bevy of benefits for those who marry, including better
health, greater wealth and more happiness for the couple, and improved
well-being for children.
Some say the government has no business using tax dollars to promote
marriage. But others say the campaign is just like those conducted by other
federal agencies to encourage the use of seat belts and discourage drug
use, smoking and drunken driving.
With ads on social networking sites Facebook and MySpace, videos on
YouTube, spots on radio talk shows, ads in magazines and public
transportation and a new website (TwoOfUs.org), creators say the aim is to
start a national conversation about marriage.
"These are people who are in the prime marrying age. A lot of them have not
had good role models about how to have a successful marriage," says Amato,
co-author of the 2007 book Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is
"Marriage has become more optional, and it's a different world out there.
That's why we think it's important to focus on this group of young people,
because the rules are less clear."
Just how the marriage information will be received is anyone's guess,
because the government's marriage initiative is "caught between two
competing truths," says William Galston of the Brookings Institution, a
Washington, D.C., think tank.
"One truth is we really do need a national conversation about marriage.
Marriage rates have been dropping. Young adults are concerned and confused
about the issue. They don't know exactly where to turn.
"On the other hand, there is a real and justified suspicion about the role
that government can play in this discussion," says Galston, who was a
domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration.
"What we're talking about is a slow but steady increase in the percentage
of Americans who don't intend to get married and probably won't," he says.
"This trend represents a meaningful change in our society. Whether or not
it constitutes a problem depends on broader, and contested, propositions
about marriage in relation to the common good."
To find out how to tailor the media campaign, the resource center
commissioned a Chicago-based youth research company called TRU to get
inside the heads of the 18-to-30 age group. Through online surveys of 3,672
men and women over the summer, researchers found five distinct segments:
14% express strong sentiments against marriage.
22% aren't ready but say they eventually plan to wed.
23% have a practical view of marital unions and often live together first.
19% are enmeshed in the magic of love.
22% have a strong belief in the institution of marriage.
Of those surveyed, 69% were single, 29% married, and 2% were separated,
widowed or divorced. Of the singles, 47% were in a committed relationship,
18% were dating but not in a committed relationship, and 35% were not
"One of the surprising things, given the divorce rates and the culture, was
that the motivation for marriage is quite high," says Peter Picard of TRU,
which also conducted focus groups to supplement the surveys.
Resource center project director Mary Myrick of Oklahoma City says the
media campaign has a budget of $1.25 million a year for four years; the
campaign is part of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative, a Bush
administration effort under the Administration for Children & Families.
In 2005, Congress allocated $750 million over five years to the marriage
initiative, with $100 million a year for marriage-related programs and $50
million a year supporting fatherhood programs. Of those dollars, the
resource center is receiving $2 million each year over five years. The
media campaign money is an additional annual allocation, according to HHS.
"Most people want to get married someday, and most do. That's not at
issue," says Nicky Grist of the Brooklyn-based Alternatives to Marriage
Project, a non-profit advocate for the rights of the unmarried.
She and others have organized an ad hoc coalition that will ask the Obama
administration to stop using anti-poverty money for marriage promotion.
"What's at issue is really two things, from our perspective," she says.
"Should government tell people when to get married? And should government
and society privilege marriage over all other relationships? Our answer to
both those questions is no."
Whether young adults will heed the marriage message is yet to be
determined. But Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor at Clark University in
Worcester, Mass., who was among the first to study emerging adulthood, says
he's "pretty cynical."
"They don't want to be told what to do by their parents, by employers, by
their friends. They really want to make independent decisions. And there's
no decision bigger than this," he says. "They take marriage very seriously.
That is a very private journey, that search for the soul mate. I can't
imagine they'd want the advice of a government agency."
Johanan Odhner, 24, a grad student in chemistry at Temple University,
believes in marriage.
"It's always been my goal to have a family, and I want to be young enough
when I have children to have an active presence and have the energy to do
activities with them," says Odhner, who married in May.
His wife, Chelsea Odhner, 24, says she would be receptive to the campaign
but understands those who wouldn't. "I know a handful of people who
lifelong partners and have kids with them and aren't married. Even though
my personal view is I choose marriage instead of living with somebody, I
understand for other people they might not be comfortable with that."
Marisa Martineau, 29, of Falls Church, Va., doesn't like the idea of an ad
campaign for marriage.
"Government should be focusing on spending my tax dollars to reduce the
disparities that exist between married people and unmarried people and not
encouraging marriage," she says.
Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families,
disagrees. He advised the Bush administration on welfare policies and the
related marriage initiative. "The government finances campaigns on smoking,
seat-belt use, drug use," he says. "We spend millions of dollars supporting
public campaigns to change public behavior. From that perspective, this is
But that was then.
Now, with dwindling federal dollars and a change in political power, the
future of many programs is unclear, says Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for
the Department of Health and Human Services.
Although she says President Obama supports marriage and fatherhood
programs, the struggling economy is forcing the administration to "make
choices based on shrinking budgets and a worsening economy."
"One of the areas we want to take a hard look at is the effectiveness of
advertising across the agencies that fall under HHS," she says. "We have
not made any decisions in regards to programs or specific ad campaigns, but
we are looking carefully at everything."
Oerall, 18- to 30-year-old seem confident about their ability to make a
--82% expect to be married for life
--75% would rather be alone than marry the wrong person.
--70% say they have skills to make relationship last forever
--56% say it's important to live with partner before marriage
--36% say divorce never an option for me
--28% say there's only one perfect marriage partner for everyone
--22% say life-long commitment scares me
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