Marriage culture slips? Family instability impacts future generations

Marriage is one of the core institutions of civil society. It precedes and gives rise to society, which in turn, precedes and gives rise to government (this is why many of us believe that the government has no legitimate authority to define or re-define marriage). Marriage is the primary means by which the identity, values, distinctions, and priorities of a culture are passed from generation to generation. This is why the future of marrage will impact more than just the individuals who will be joined together in the future; every member of a society has a vested interest in the future of marriage, even those who will never marry, because it affects our common future.

We Christians believe that God designed the human family around the marital commitment and that the human family therefore flourishes best where marriage is highly-valued. For all of these reasons, faith communities have been keen to preserve and strengthen marriage in our culture. Catholic, Historic-Protestant, Evangelical, Anglican, Jewish and other non-Christian religious leaders recently issued an open letter affirming their commitment to protecting the traditional understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman for the good of children and wider society.

We in the United States and in the West more generally are currently facing a crisis of marriage. I think "crisis" is not too strong a word in this instance. For various reasons (including, among others, the decline of traditional sexual morals and the decline of "rites of passage") more and more people are defering marriage, while more and more children are born out of wedlock. Fewer people than ever believe that marriage is crucial to the future of our society.

The news is rather bleak (see the USA Today article below). Yet there is an opportunity here for the Church to lift up marriage in our teaching and in our living; to show the culture a better way. We need to demonstrate by our persuasive arguments and by our holy lifestyles that life-long marriage is the most spiritually healthy option available to the world for raising well-adjusted children and for creating stable families. We ought to be persuading people of the tangible benefits of a marriage culture (and we've plenty of research on our side). Furthermore, I hope Christians will be on the forefront creating films, stories, children's books, and music that celebrates the value of marriage.

(From USA Today)
What's the matter with kids today? A great deal more than you might realize.

One-third are overweight or obese. Nearly a third drop out or can't finish high school in four years. All told, 75% are in such a poor state that they are ineligible for military service for reasons ranging from health to drugs to criminal records to lack of education.
Last month came bad news about the rest: 23% of those who try to enlist fail the basic entrance exam.

Dismayed military leaders and education reformers are quick to blame failing schools, and they're right. But there's a deeper issue in play as well — one that gets far too little attention.

In 2009, 41% of children born in the USA were born to unmarried mothers (up from 5% a half-century ago!). That includes 73% of non-Hispanic black children, 53% of Hispanic children and 29% of non-Hispanic white children. Those are not misprints.

Some children of unmarried parents, of course, turn out just fine, particularly if the parents are economically secure or in committed, long-term relationships, or if the single parent is particularly strong and motivated. And as married parents will tell you, wedlock does not guarantee untroubled kids.

Even so, evidence is overwhelming that children of single mothers — particularly teen mothers — suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low school performance.

A long-term study by researchers from Princeton and Columbia universities who've followed the lives of 5,000 children, born to married and never-married mothers in 20 urban centers, is the latest to reach that conclusion, and it sheds light on the reasons.

A large majority of the never-married mothers had close relationships with a partner when their child was born. But by the time the child was 5, most of the fathers were gone and the child had little contact with him. As many of the mothers went on to new relationships, the children were hampered by repeated transitions that did more harm to their development.

These " fragile families" are not a new phenomenon. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Labor Department official and later a prominent senator, rang alarm bells when unmarried births in the black community were nearing 24%. (The rate among white mothers was about 3% then.) But his paper on the subject ignited a furor, particularly among fellow liberals and civil rights leaders, who charged him with racism and blaming the victim.
Today, the 1965 numbers look quaint. Yet despite the soaring statistics, the problem never gets the profile it deserves.

Many on the right focus on marriage as the answer, and surely that is a big part of it. Single-parent success stories aside, reduced commitment is no virtue. On the left, the tendency is to see poverty as the villain, and just as surely, fighting its causes is also part of the answer. So is improving schools.

But so far, no one's answers seem to be working. Even as school programs have cut into teen pregnancy rates, more babies are being born to unmarried women in their 20s. In 2009, for the first time since the Census began tallying marriages, the proportion of never-married Americans ages 25 through 34 exceeded those who had been married.

There are no easy ways to reverse these trends. Anything that promotes stability in children's lives can help. But this much is clear: When 41% of babies born in the USA have unwed parents and most children reach adulthood with serious problems, more attention must be paid.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is true, most African-Ameirans and whites have children out of wedlock in their 20's and not their teens. Some programs exist to get couples that are 25 years and older to try married. I think the churches need to address this more. Hispanics also have most children out of wedlock in their 20's but ore hispanic girls are paired with adult males, perhaps this is apart of Mexican culture and so on. Another problem to be dealt with the churches either cahtolic or protestant.

4:22 PM, July 16, 2012  

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