The Salience and Severity of Relationship Problems Among Low-Income Couples

Published in: Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 30(1), February 2016, 2-11

Posted on RAND.org on April 13, 2017

by Grace L. Jackson, Thomas E. Trail, David P. Kennedy, Hannah C. Williamson, Thomas N. Bradbury, Benjamin Karney

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Developing programs to support low-income married couples requires an accurate understanding of the challenges they face. To address this question, we assessed the salience and severity of relationship problems by asking 862 Black, White, and Latino newlywed spouses (N = 431 couples) living in low-income neighborhoods to (a) free list their 3 biggest sources of disagreement in the marriage, and (b) rate the severity of the problems appearing on a standard relationship problem inventory. Comparing the 2 sources of information revealed that, although relational problems (e.g., communication and moods) were rated as severe on the inventory, challenges external to the relationship (e.g., children) were more salient in the free listing task. The pattern of results is robust across couples of varying race/ethnicity, parental status, and income levels. We conclude that efforts to strengthen marriages among low-income couples may be more effective if they address not only relational problems, but also couples' external stresses by providing assistance with child care, finances, or job training.

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