In reviewing the work “Does Marriage and Relationship Education Work? A Meta-Analytic Study” by Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin, and Fawcett (2008) the first element of the study which emerges is it thoroughness and the size of its sample. The abstract immediately establishes the thoroughness of the authors’ approach to the study; however, it also makes it quite clear that the study will be focused and quickly establishes that focus immediately: marriage and relationship education (MRE) with a focus on two particular outcomes – relationship quality and communication skills. The article is well-organized with each section having appropriate subsections. Being statistically focused the article is sometimes rather dense but its flow and critical analyses keep the statistical assessment comprehensible.
One place where the study perhaps does not perform so well is its explorations of the moderators of effect size outcomes. It states that the authors explored seven variables which “could moderate the effect size distributions” described in the study (Hawkins et al., 2008, p. 727). Of these seven variables three are immediately relative to considerations of qualitative research: racial/ethnic, economic diversity, and relationship distress. The authors report that “the serious lack of sample diversity in MRE evaluation work prevented fair tests of differences” (Hawkins et al., 2008, p. 727). This does not mean that there were no studies featuring racially diverse samples. The authors highlight a few studies which had as their focus either ethnically diverse couples (in one case, a study focused on Chinese-Americans while another examined Hispanic couples) or economically disadvantaged couples (in one case, a study focused on low-income couples) (Hawkins et al., 2008). Both in terms of ethnic diverse and economically disadvantaged couples it appears that MRE is quite successfully. Later in the discussion section the authors conclude that due to the dearth of “research on the effects of MRE with couples from diverse racial/ethnic and economic backgrounds” it is “impossible to draw definitive conclusions about MRE’s efficiency for diverse groups” (Hawkins et al., 2008, p. 728). In other words, though the findings of the studies they mentioned were in favor of MRE for these populations, there are insufficient studies to meaningfully generalize those findings. However, the authors indicate that several longitudinal studies were in the works which would shed more light on these populations and the effects of MRE. This also appears to have implications for remarried couples, another group which the authors indicate are not sufficiently studied by the literature.

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In terms of increasing participation of disadvantaged and ethnically diverse populations in MRE programs, as a researcher I would partner with social services or outreach programs in neighborhoods in which such populations live and work (Calley, 2009). These populations are probably less likely to be in the usual places from where samples and participants are usually drawn; after all, it is entirely possible that the dearth of representation in these studies is the result of how the participants are recruited. The premise “If you build it they will come” sounds reasonable in principle, but if “they” aren’t even aware of what “it” is, the “it” won’t do them much good. This also reflects a weakness in accurately assessing the samples before studying and recognizing the lack of diversity in those samples (Calley, 2009).

The types of measure that I would employ or focus on to obtain more reliable and generalizable results would be interviews (Calley, 2009). This would afford me the opportunity to (a) more accurately ascertain if participants literally understand what they’re being asked and (b) visually gauge their reactions to certain questions which could be useful for further questions. I would also conduct follow-up interviews. In terms of data collection I would likely not visually record these interviews though I would audio-record them as I think that cultural sensitivity would dictate not visually recording in order to entice more authentic results.

    References
  • Calley, N. G. (2009). Comprehensive program development in mental health counseling: Design, implementation, and evaluation. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 31(1), 9-21.
  • Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship education work? A meta-analytic study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(5), 723-734.