couple and relationship education, family policy, low-income couples, meta-analysis, program evaluation


The negative effects of family instability on children and adults have captured the attention of legislators and policymakers wondering if something could be done to help at-risk couples form and sustain healthy relationships and marriages. For a decade now, public funds have supported grants to provide couple and relationship education (CRE) to lower income individuals and couples. This meta-analytic study reviewed 38 studies (with 47 independent samples) assessing the effectiveness of CRE for lower income couples (defined as more than two-thirds of the sample below twice the poverty level) in an attempt to form current policy debates. Overall effect sizes for control-group studies suggest that CRE for diverse, lower income couples has small, positive relationship effects (overall d = .061), especially on self-reports of relationship quality, communication, and aggression. There were somewhat stronger effects for studies with more married couples (d = .091), mostly "near-poor" (vs. poor) participants (d = .074), and more (vs. fewer) participants in relationship distress (d = .072). In comparison to the effect sizes for control-group studies, the effects of one-group/prepost studies were larger (overall d = .352). Practitioners will need to continue to innovate curriculum design and pedagogy, improve other programmatic elements, and find ways to increase participant engagement to achieve greater success with the limited public funds that support CRE.

Original Publication Citation

Hawkins, A. J., & Erickson, S. E. (2015). Is couple and relationship education effective for lower income participants? A meta-analytic study. Journal of Family Psychology, 29, 59-68.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Family Psychology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor