Social Scientific Data on the Impact of Marriage and Divorce on Children

Margy Waller
Margy Waller Visiting Fellow, Economic Studies and Metropolitan Policy, The Brookings Institution

May 13, 2004

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. My name is Margy Waller. I am a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. where my research focuses on poverty, welfare, and low-income working families. Please note however that my testimony today reflects my own views and not the views of any organization with which I am affiliated.

It is an honor to appear before you to discuss the state of knowledge on the impact of marriage and divorce on children, with a particular focus on policy interventions to improve the well-being of children in low-income households.

The administration proposes to encourage states to promote healthy marriages and in doing so to “place a greater emphasis in TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] on strengthening families and improving the well-being of children”.

There is little argument that the body of academic literature supports the conclusion that children do best when they live with their married mother and father, provided that the marriage is one of low-conflict. However, other findings have important implications for consideration of policy interventions to promote safe, healthy marriages in low-income households.

First, my testimony will review some important findings – and limitations of the research – for consideration in developing public policy to support the goals of healthy marriages and the well-being of children. Second, I will outline recommendations for public policy and federal investment in light of the research, including implications for the pending reauthorization of the 1996 welfare law.