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  • Hardly Obsolete: Restoring the Health of Families

    When a news outlet heralds the message that “4 in 10 say marriage becoming obsolete,” one can be sure that no one has surveyed the kids.

    Today the Pew Research Center, in conjunction with Time Magazine, formally released the results of a poll that, in the words of one Associated Press writer, underscores the existence of “rapidly changing notions of the American family.” It’s an ideological spin on what is in fact a slowly evolving situation that culture shapers and policymakers could and should be doing much more to address.

    The core statement about the coming obsolescence of marriage is rooted in Pew’s benchmark finding that only 28 percent of U.S. adults believed marriage was obsolete in 1978, whereas 39 percent hold that belief today. That is indeed a significant increase, but it is incremental—about one-third of a percentage point per year. Interpretations of the Pew report are taking a decidedly ideological view on other topics as well, including the finding that about 29 percent of children under age 18 now live with parents who are divorced or never married. That number is up fivefold from 1960, but it is a long way from making a majority.

    Marriage is certainly hurting as an institution, but its reported death, like Mark Twain’s, is an exaggeration, and its revival is certainly an imperative. Marriage can become obsolete only in a society where the needs of children have become passé. That is because marital status is strongly tied to educational achievement and financial success, and the alternatives to raising children in an intact, married household show elevated rates of adversity on so many outcome measurements.

    Consider just one: the incidence of abuse and neglect of children by family structure. The latest national incidence report from the Administration on Children and Families found that children living with their married, biological parents had the lowest rates of abuse across all of the categories of maltreatment studied. In fact, the report, released just this year, found that, “compared to children living with married biological parents, those whose single parent had a live-in partner had more than 8 times the rate of maltreatment overall, over 10 times the rate of abuse, and nearly 8 times the rate of neglect.”

    Differential outcomes for children hold up across other measurements, including rates of juvenile delinquency, school dropout, having aspirations for and attending college, avoiding early sexual experience and pregnancy, and enjoying marital happiness as adults.

    Rather than indulging “Brave New World” euphoria about evolving family styles, culture shapers and policymakers should be doing more to reverse the incremental declines of the past three decades and restore a culture of married families. For example, no action government could take would be more crucial to successfully addressing child poverty than promoting marriage among poor (and, increasingly, underemployed) middle-income Americans. Poignantly, the same reports showing that Americans in these income groups are experiencing less marital success also show that they revere marriage and desire the long-term emotional, economic and personal security it manifestly brings.

    Reshaping public policy and encouraging more constructive media messages are hard work. Among the immediate steps that need attention are welfare reforms that address not just one but all 70 of the federal government’s anti-poverty programs, restoration of the Healthy Marriage funding (which was submerged into another stale job-training initiative by the Obama Administration), and the extension of the marriage penalty tax relief that, like half of the child tax credit, is set to expire this coming December 31.

    Government has little role in what appears on the nation’s television screens, but the absence of positive depictions of intact, married family life on the airwaves remains a shocking dereliction by the nation’s broadcasters. The hunger exists: Consider the most popular show today on The Learning Channel—its series on the Duggar family of Tontitown, Arkansas. The Duggars and their 19 children have a fascinated and devoted following. Their joy and togetherness are captivating to millions of viewers. But in this case 19 are not enough—one television program is not enough.

    Nearly 70 percent of children are still being raised by the married parents who conceived them, but very little of their real experience is shown on commercial broadcasting. Given this fact, it’s a sign of the family’s durability and resilience that the number of children being raised in intact households remains as high it is—despite an array of cultural and welfare-triggered assaults.

    It will take more than another bleak assessment of the nation’s families, abetted by a spin-doctoring media machine, to bring down this cornerstone of civil society. But it will also take much more than we are doing now to restore the married family to its full health and promise.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Hardly Obsolete: Restoring the Health of Families

    1. Steven A. Sylwester, says:

      I am a devout Christian who celebrated his 35th wedding anniversary last month. Both my parents and my in-laws are just a year or so away from celebrating their 60th wedding anniversaries. I believe in the sanctity and the goodness of marriage, and I believe marriage was instituted by God to join one man with one woman in a life-long union. Those beliefs of mine are certain and unbending, and I make no apologies for them to anyone.

      I am a life-long registered Democrat who has been teetering on changing his registration to Republican since soon after President Obama's inauguration. If I was ever a liberal Democrat, it was decades ago. Though I was a long-time moderate Democrat, I have certainly been a conservative Democrat for several years now. That has all recently changed though, because my sort of conservative Democratic thinking is no longer welcome in a Democratic Party that has been arrogated by the ultra-liberal Far Left and their political agenda that is overbearing in championing homosexual rights, especially in fighting for same-sex marriage. Quite frankly, I have had enough.

      I believe the fight is in the middle, that the hope for America's future must be found in the middle, and that any hope found must be nourished by all and allowed to take root. In the middle is where truth must finally be allowed to breathe deep breaths — and to then finally speak its mind to an audience that will listen. I was once told that a successful labor negotiation has as its outcome an equal unhappiness suffered by all parties. There is truth in that. But a greater truth is this: in matters of discrimination, the only good solution is a solution that discriminates against no one.

      Regarding Marriage: The very notion of "same-sex marriage" is an absolute and inescapable discrimination against single people. According to the noise, the fight for same-sex marriage rights is supposed to be a fight against discrimination, but discrimination moved from one group of people to another group is not discrimination ended. If anything, outcomes of moved discrimination are outcomes in which discrimination is intensified. That is the truth.

      The truth of our times must also acknowledge a significantly changing dynamic in American culture. The news of this changing dynamic keeps coming and coming, and so it can no longer be denied. Certain things in the shared Human Tradition like the Institution of Marriage should remain sacrosanct, because we should all take it as fair warning that God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). However, there is much that can be changed, and there is much that should be changed.

      I have proposed a fundamental change in American law that would allow every adult American citizen to designate one other adult American citizen as his/her "Legal Co-Equal." My proposed law discriminates against no one in any way while benefiting everyone equally, including single people. My proposed law does not replace marriage or in any way diminish marriage, but some might decide against marriage in their own case because of it. My "Legal Co-Equal" proposal can be read at:

      It is exceedingly strange, but the ultra-liberal Far Left does not like my "Legal Co-Equal" proposal because they think it derails their efforts to achieve "same-sex marriage" rights for homosexuals. They are not interested in listening to the truth that can be heard in the middle. In fact, they do not want that particular truth heard at all. And so the noise they make just gets louder and louder.

      The consequence of it all is a great and wondrous opportunity for the Republican Party and for conservatives in general. If the Republican Party adopted my "Legal Co-Equal" proposal, the ultra-liberal Far Left would get tied in knots, and might just hang itself. Mine is an in-the-middle compromise that effectively corrects many, many wrongs that are now endured by too many Americans of every sort. To come out against the undeniable fairness and the universal goodness of "Legal Co-Equal" status for all Americans would be like coming out against the grace of God, yet I predict the ultra-liberal Far Left will do just that.

      More of my thinking regarding "Legal Co-Equal" can be read at:

      Steven A. Sylwester

    2. Kathleen S Dempsey says:

      Thank you , I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and marriage is paramount to this faith. A Proclamation To The World, says it perfectly. I shuddered at the recent headlined. Thank you for honest reporting.

    3. Steven A. Sylwester, says:

      To further understand my background thinking, read my Comment #7 (November 22nd, 2010 / 9:59 pm) at: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/postmodernconser

      Though my background thinking is grounded in my religious beliefs, the details of my "Legal Co-Equal" proposal are not. "Legal Co-Equal" is simply this: a codification into law of simple efficiencies for society in general and of simple decencies for each and every adult U.S. citizen in particular. God is in that insofar as God is in all thinks that are orderly and of intelligent design, and insofar as Jesus spoke Divine Truth when he said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12 NIV, Luke 6:31 NIV) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18 NIV, Mark 12:31 NIV).

      Steven A. Sylwester

    4. Tim Brown, Illinois says:

      I could write a book about what is taking place today in our nations secretive family courts, however, Dr. Baskerville already has written, "Taken into Custody". If the Heritage Foundation was serious about "restoring the family", the Heritage Foundation would address what their brothers and cousins who wear the black robes are doing/getting away with in regards to breaking up the families, simply because one parent ( usually the Mom), wants it.

      Unilateral divorce, otherwise known as forced divorce is what is driving the high rate of father absence, ( forced father absence, forced by the Judge), in our country today. I would like to respectfully ask, " When will the Heritage Foundation address what is taking place today in the secretive family courtrooms ?"

      Tim Brown

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