Adolescent Union Beliefs and Expectations: A Focus on Participants in Relationship Education Programs

Deanna Trella, Bowling Green State University

Abstract

Recently, the federal government has attempted to support marriage by providing financial and political resources for relationship initiatives, particularly those that target poor and disadvantaged populations. This comes in response to a shift in marriage behavior during the last half of the 20th century in the United States wherein age at first marriage, nonmarital childbearing, cohabitation, and divorce rates increased (Cherlin 2004; United States Census Bureau 2009). There are few relationship education programs that target adolescents. Adolescent romantic relationships unfold during a unique stage in the life course, one that is characterized by keen interest in relationships, but with little preparation for navigating this new type of intimate contact. The goal of this dissertation is to evaluate the relationship beliefs and expectations of adolescents in an effort to advance knowledge of the factors that influence transitions to healthy adult relationships and marriages. The life course perspective serves as the conceptual framework for ensuing analyses by highlighting the occurrence of romantic relationships during a pivotal period of growth, and highlighting the ramifications of these relationships and transitions to more binding adult relationships. This dissertation utilizes three data sets: 1) existing data from the relationship education program No Jerks (including pre-/post-class assessments, a brief marriage attitudes survey, and demographic data) that highlight and advance knowledge of the views and experiences of disadvantaged adolescents; 2) new data from a pilot relationship education program Relationship Smarts including pre-/post-class assessments, demographic data, and in-depth interviews; and 3) wave one findings from the Toledo Adolescent Relationship Study with a particular emphasis on addressing factors that account for socioeconomic differences in relationship beliefs.