A Nation Divided - By Family Structure


Over the past forty years, our nation has engaged in a social experiment that has proven ruinous - we began to treat marriage and procreation as separate phenomena; this, despite the wisdom and experience of the ages.  

It was not based on a formal decision or rupture but rather a series of developments and shifts in thinking that tended to promote and enable such a point of view.  

Perhaps the most significant was our unprecedented affluence and technology.  Indeed, the dishwasher and washing machine have probably done more for the “women's movement” than any feminist screed.  In any event, our new found wealth and leisure made opportunities for social experimentation possible.  

One such invention was to conceive of marriage not as simply the best arrangement for nurturing children and preparing the next generation, but as strictly a romantic relationship between two adults, stripped of its customary child rearing role.  Americans began to question why one even had to be married to have children.  

Other now commonplace practices emerged from the new dispensation that have undermined marriage and family.  These include widespread divorce, illegitimacy, and cohabitation, which have become fully normalized into society.  If marriage, after all, was no longer critical to creating a family then why stay together?  In fact, why bother getting married at all?  

Secularization, feminism, and radical self autonomy were other corrosive forces.  Abortion, too, became a destabilizing force for it turned the male female relationship upside down. In the event of an unwanted pregnancy brought to term, because of the availability of the abortion option, many males would feel no obligation to marry or care for the infant as they might have before.  

The current crusade for same sex unions may be most damaging of all for it would redefine marriage.  The law and culture (through the courts and litigation) would ultimately insist on removing vestiges of the ancien regime, including such dated notions as mother-father, husband-wife, to institute (to coin a new phrase) “eros-neutrality,” or to purge, as David Frum terms it, the “heteronormative.”  

The final ingredient in the unhappy recipe has been the government itself, which saw fit to subsidize dysfunctional behavior, making it economically viable, thus, indirectly incentivizing and endorsing it.  

And so there came a transformation of our culture and society from one that emphasized marriage, family, and parental responsibility to one whose priorities seemed to be an ever expanding list of rights, the pursuit of personal pleasure, and unrestricted self expression: a permissive, non judgmental culture that shunned guilt, shame, or stigma, including the stigma of divorce and illegitimacy. 

The result of this revolutionary upheaval, of the various competing models and arrangements for raising children, of separating marriage from reproduction, has been to diminish marriage and family as essential and privileged social institutions to that of merely other lifestyle options.  Their weakening has led to the simultaneous unraveling of the moral weave of society, and an unleashing of an epidemic of social ills that will plague us for generations to come. 

And the evidence is in.

Nearly half of all marriages today end in divorce, and fully 40% of children are born illegitimately; in the black community, the latter figure approaches 70%.  The impact on individuals and particularly the offspring of such splintered families is devastating.  

Children coming from divorced or non married homes are far more likely to encounter a multitude of social calamities: educational failure, poverty, delinquency, early pregnancy, crime, emotional difficulties, and so on.  Many if not most will require the state to jail, restore, and subsidize at great cost to society.  

Furthermore, the patterns of failure and dysfunction are intergenerational and do not end with the lifetime of the individual; in fact the same defective patterns are passed on to offspring, affecting and burdening the individuals, their families, and society for decades.  

The single greatest factor in determining the likelihood of living in poverty is not IQ, race, or education, but whether the individual comes from an intact, married family; the single most important dynamic behind income, net worth, grade point average, and dependency, is being raised by one's married parents.  

There are indeed two Americas today, but not the kind commonly advertised by John Edwards and other Democrats, divided by class, income, or race, but rather an America divided by family structure.  

Those Americans that emerge from traditional, married families are far more likely to succeed in school, find employment, form healthy families, enjoy good incomes, and accumulate wealth, while those that do not will probably fail and depend on government assistance. 

It is, indeed, a novel way of looking at the nation and its problems.  There is not so much an income, racial, or educational gap, but, as Kay Hymowitz describes in Marriage and Caste, a marriage gap.  

The answer to the scourge of poverty in America turns out not to be more wealth transfers from the American taxpayer, but something far simpler: marriage and family.  When will our leaders begin devoting themselves to rehabilitating these vital institutions as the centerpieces of our national culture?  


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