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Unequal Families

  

      
     There have been many wrong turns taken by our nation, but perhaps the most insidious has been the false path started in the sixties when Americans began to think of marriage and procreation as separate enterprises, and that raising children outside of wedlock, either through non married or divorced families, was, if not entirely proper, at least, acceptable.  
      With so libertine and lax a vision, it was only a matter of time before marriage and family would fray and crumble, and, regrettably, it has come to pass - and we are all of us the worse for it.  
      Perhaps it is unfair to blame all our maladies on that unfortunate decade, the sixties, but one cannot deny the pernicious effects of some of the “countercultural” ideologies that have infected the mainstream and eroded so many of our vital institutions; and surely, the delinking of marriage and reproduction would have to rank high on the list for disastrous outcomes, right up there with the so called “war on poverty,” which recruited the government into subsidizing dysfunctional behavior and thereby encouraging it.
      Alas, we cannot change the past; only dig out from the rubble of poor choices.  
      The evidence shows, however, that having illegitimate children or divorcing is among the worst things you can do to your offspring.  Children from unmarried and divorced families are much more likely than counterparts from intact families to encounter a plethora of social evils including educational failure, poverty, incarceration, emotional problems, early pregnancy, drug addiction - you name it.  Such individuals will generally require the state to police and support at great cost to society.  The problem, furthermore, is intergenerational, with the same adverse patterns passed on, burdening prospective offspring and society well into the future.
      Kay Hymowitz, author of Marriage and Caste, provides interesting insights: she describes a country that is divided not so much by income or race but by what she terms a marriage gap: that women with college degrees rarely have out of wedlock births, but that women without a high school education, by contrast, have seen their illegitimacy rates soar.  The dramatic increase in single parent families is concentrated chiefly among blacks and the poorly educated and rarely among the college educated.  Robert Rector (Heritage Foundation) points out, importantly, that the incidence of poverty in married black families is almost as low as it is for married white families (12% to 8%), demonstrating that race is much less of a factor than family structure. 
      One might assume that the reason for greater success in married homes is because of “strength in numbers,” the presence of two incomes, two pairs of hands, and two pairs of eyes, yet children from step families or with cohabitating parents do not fare much better than single parent homes and significantly worse than children from intact married families. 
      Hymowitz explains that the act of getting married before children implies the adoption of an important set of beliefs or ideals, an understanding that children require much nurturing and attention that can best be provided by two loving, committed parents, a mother and a father.  Successful families also provide children with a vitally important model or “life script” (Hymowitz's term) often missing in broken families, which is to work hard at school, get a good education, find work, marry, and only then have children.  Following this program generally produces favorable outcomes while departing from it carries high risks for failure. 
      For decades now, this fundamental truth, obvious to our ancestors, and apparent to many today, has been under attack, often derided by a self obsessed culture as “bourgeois,” quaint, or even obsolete.  Other arrangements for rearing children, it was thought, with the help of government, were just as effective and permitted that critical degree of bohemian latitude. 
      But the effect of this indulgent and damaging attitude has been to undermine the two critical institutions upon which society depends: marriage and family; and by abandoning them wholesale, the nation has engaged in and endorsed a social experiment that has proven ruinous.
      And so we find a nation divided not so much by income, race, or education but by family structure: we have “separate but unequal families” and a divided, two tiered, two “caste” society.  There are upwardly mobile, home owning, middle class, married families and impoverished, often downwardly spiraling non married or divorced families.  
      The roots of poverty and social division lie not in racism, lack of opportunity, bad schools, or an oppressive capitalist system, but in the normalization of illegitimacy and divorce, and the rejection of the traditional intact married family as the preferred and most effective model for raising children.
       
     

 

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