By Fr. George Welzbacher
January 13, 2013
Mona Charen is a perceptive commentator on today's society. Her column each week in The Washington Times and in other conservative papers is always worth reading. In particular her recent wake-up call on the alarming erosion of the institution of marriage over the past forty years in America is deeply troubling. The ground is shifting beneath our feet. May I share her comments with you here. They were printed in the December 17th issue of the national edition of The Washington Times.
* * * * *Mona Charen's reflections on contemporary marriage were echoed in a news report by Cheryl Wetzstein that appeared in The Washington Times (national edition) a week later, on December 24th. Here is Ms. Wetzstein's report.
Single Belles, Single Belles, Single all the Way
The Washington Times, December 17, 2012
Discussing the role of single people in the election of 2012 on my weekly podcast with Jay Nordlinger "Need to Know" (available on Ricochet.com or Nationalreview.com), your humble columnist chose the insensitive way to address it. Chatting with Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard about his piece "A Nation of Singles," I popped off that "Single mothers want the state to be their husbands as well as to be the father to their children."
Jonathan put it better: "Well, let's say that single mothers are more vulnerable to economic shocks and are more concerned about the safety net." Much more diplomatic. Single voters were a key demographic in 2012 (if the percentage of married voters had been what it was in 1980, Romney would have won) and there is little reason to imagine that their importance will wane in the future. Singles INCREASED their share of the vote from 2008 by 6 points.
Until about 1970, the percentage of the adult population in America that was MARRIED never dipped below ABOUT 93 PERCENT. Since then, marriage has been steadily declining. TODAY, ABOUT HALF THE POPULATION IS SINGLE. THE UNMARRIED REPRESENT ABOUT 40 PERCENT OF THE ELECTORATE, and they broke heavily for Obama -- by 16 percentage points among single men and 36 percentage points among single women -- giving him two-thirds of his margin of victory. (By contrast, Romney prevailed among married voters by 56-42.)
The MARRIAGE gap is also an EDUCATION gap in America. Those with little or no college, and particularly those without a high school diploma, are SHUNNING MARRIAGE in favor of cohabitation. The college-educated, by contrast, are still marrying at close to the rates they did in the 1950s (though later in life, which contributes to lower fertility). Stable families among the elites perpetuate their status, providing their children with the financial and emotional stability necessary to lead fulfilling lives. Highly UNSTABLE families among the LESS educated lock in INEQUALITY as well, prompting Charles Murray to call upon the elites to "preach what they practice."
It isn't a matter of urgent NATIONAL importance when NON-parents choose to live together without benefit of clergy (love the old fashioned expression). When CHILDREN come into the picture, IT IS. There is simply no controversy about the data: Two-parent married families are best for children -- and best for society.
According to the Census Bureau, ONE OF THREE AMERICAN CHILDREN GROWS UP IN A HOME WITHOUT HIS BIOLOGICAL FATHER. These children are almost four times more likely to be poor (44 percent) as are children from intact families (12 percent).
Fatherlessness (and while there are some single fathers raising children, they are a small minority) is associated with increased incidence of every measurable pathology. It is evident from birth, and even before. Children of single mothers have higher rates of infant mortality, receive less health care, perform more poorly on post-natal tests, are slower to gain weight and have more complications. Babies with a father's name on their birth certificates are four times more likely to live past age 1 than those without.
In SCHOOL, the pattern holds. Children from single parent families tend (and these are aggregates, NOT universals) to get lower grades, have more behavior problems, experience higher rates of depression and other mental illnesses and drop out at higher rates. Children of single parents are more likely to be unemployed, get into trouble with the law and be incarcerated. (Source: National Fatherhood Initiative.)
Cohabitating couples are FAR more likely to separate than are married couples, which means children often live with non-relative adults. A child living with his mother and her boyfriend is at MAXIMUM risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that children in such households are 50 TIMES MORE LIKELY than children of intact families to be the victims of physical or sexual abuse.
There are simply REAMS of social science data showing that marriage is the best institution for adult and child happiness/flourishing. But it seems that in America today, only activists for same sex marriage are enthusiasts..... [Emphasis added].
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Marriage Culture Called the Key to a Stable Middle Class
The Washington Times, December 24, 2012
Although Americans spend $50 billion a year on weddings, a large segment of the population is making an EXODUS from the institution, says a new report from a family-values think tank.
The DISAPPEARANCE OF MARRIAGE in "middle America" is tracking with the disappearance of the MIDDLE CLASS in the same communities, and "strikes at the very heart of the American Dream," scholars Elizabeth Marquardt, David Blankenhorn, Robert I. Lerman, Linda Malone-Colon and W. Bradford Wilcox said in a paper released Sunday.
They offer 10 recommendations to President Obama and other policymakers to renew a marriage culture.
"One of the reasons MARRIAGE is so important is that it's the best thing we've figured out TO KEEP FATHERS CONNECTED TO THE CHILDREN THEY'VE PRODUCED," said Mrs. Marquardt, director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values (IAV).
"Fathers matter, and they matter for everybody. We don't have certain classes of children for whom [having a father] doesn't matter," she said.
The 10 recommendations include ending tax penalties for married couples, investing in relationship-skills education and premarital education for persons seeking to form stepfamilies, divorce reform, and tripling the tax credit for minor children.
Another tactic is for the nation's leaders, including the president, to "engage Hollywood" in discussions about POSITIVE depictions of marriage and fatherhood in the popular culture, said the 2012 State of Our Unions report, "The President's Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent," which was released by IAV and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
A companion report, "Social Indicators of Marital Health and Well-Being," showed that U.S. high school students continue to have high aspirations for marriage: Eighty percent of high school girls and 72 percent of high school boys said having a good marriage and family life is "extremely important," according to Monitoring the Future surveys from 2007 to 2010.
But the steep decline in U.S. marriages can be seen when marriages are measured against the number of marriageable women. In 1970, for instance, there were 76.5 marriages for every 1,000 single women ages 15 and older. By 2010, this plummeted to 32.9 marriages per 1,000 single women.
The "60 percent" referred to by the report is the population, aged 25 to 60, who have a high-school diploma but not a college degree.
Marriage is rapidly slipping away from this "middle America" segment of the population, the report said. As recently as the 1980s, only 13 percent of children born to mothers with this moderate level of education were born out of wedlock. By the 2000s, though, 44 percent of children were born to single mothers.
"The plight of this population who once married in high proportions and formed families within marriage - and who still aspire to marriage, but increasingly are unable to achieve it - is the social challenge for our times," said the report.
As a result, middle-American families are beginning to resemble the "fragile families" led by high school dropouts, where economic stress, partner conflict, single parenting and troubling outcomes for children are not uncommon.
"We've had several marriage debates in this country," said Mrs. Marquardt, citing Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1960s report on the black family, the debate about single motherhood in the 1990s welfare reform, and the ongoing gay-marriage debate. It's time for a new marriage debate about the "hollowing out" of marriage in M1DDLE America, she said. "There are a few things you need to do to be middle class, and one of them generally is to GET AND STAY MARRIED."
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And finally - back to Mona Charen again - in the national debate occasioned by the ghastly massacre of twenty 6 and 7 year-old children in a Connecticut elementary school, a development that is of increasing concern for thoughtful observers of today's America is the thirst for mindless violence that is whetted by the growing appetite for desensitizing video games and mass murder movies. Here's what Ms. Charen had to say on this disturbing phenomenon on the eve of our celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.
* * * * *All in all, all is not well. As the new year begins, in many sectors of American society the hurricane flags are flying.
Violence as Virtual Entertainment
The Washington Post, December 24, 2012
In the wake of past mass shootings, when the "national conversation" has focused exclusively on guns, I have argued that our appallingly inadequate mental health system was a better subject of reform. At least half of the shooters in the rampage killings that are ripping our hearts out are young men with serious mental illnesses, and our system has neither the legal nor the financial resources to get them the treatment and/or restraint that they, and we, desperately need.
This time, mental health reform has received passing mention, along with the usual pleas for gun control, better security at schools and so forth.
Some control of ammunition might be useful at the margins (though the Connecticut killer seems to have obtained his deadly arsenal from his mother). As for security, some have argued that placing armed officials in schools would profoundly alter the tenor of American life. I can report that in Fairfax County, Va., where my children attend public schools, every middle and high school has an armed police officer on duty every day. It doesn't feel like a prison camp. It's somewhat reassuring.
Modesty is called for in judging what causes these mass killings in America and elsewhere. (Australia, Norway and China have also experienced them.) Guns have always been readily available in this country, yet these random massacres in classrooms or malls or movie theaters are new. Is it the dissolution of families? The decline of religious faith? The fading of civil institutions, such as churches and community groups? Is popular culture to blame? Is it the wall-to-wall coverage?
It's worth considering all of the above. These are the acts of profoundly disturbed or insane individuals, yes, but culture affects the way even the mentally unbalanced behave. The rate of violent crime has been declining for more than a decade, which suggests that we are not in the grip of mass depravity. But if we believe great works have the capacity to ennoble, we must concede that vile works can corrupt.
Mass shooting has become an American form of psychosis - with each new horror inviting an even more grotesque imitator.
Mental illness takes different forms in different times and places. Before American culture became obsessed with thinness as a standard of beauty, anorexia nervosa was exceedingly rare. In Japan, a culture that prizes social cohesion, people suffer from taijin kyofusho, an extreme fear of offending other people through body odor or appearance. In Malaysia, reports Scientific American, an illness called "amok" (from which comes the expression "running amok") periodically afflicts young men. They respond to perceived slights with a brooding withdrawal, followed by explosions of violence.
With our splintering families, declining participation in civil society and greater alienation, we are nonetheless entertaining ourselves with an endless stream of depraved violence and sexuality. Many kids are not having a family dinner with mom and dad every night, but instead are closeted for hours with a shooting game on Xbox. No one is watching with them to offer perspective.
Violence and sex have, obviously, always been with us. "Hamlet" has its violent moments. Yet the violence of great literature, or even of ordinary melodrama, was usually presented within a moral context. It was nearly always the case that heroic figures used VIOLENCE TO THWART EVIL, NOT FOR THE FUN OF IT.
Some filmmakers scoffed at the "antiseptic" violence of the old Westerns in which the bad guys would take a bloodless bullet and cry "Ah, you got me." Far better, it was argued, to show a simulacrum of the real thing.
But viewing realistic violence and suffering, far from repelling or sensitizing people, has the capacity to inure us to the horror, dull our capacity for compassion and coarsen our sensibilities. Worse, for a subset of unbalanced viewers, graphic violence is perversely pleasurable. It may also be disinhibiting. The Columbine killers were great fans of the movie "Natural Born Killers."
It will require tremendous effort, time and resources to repair our mental health system. But it would be a simple matter of will for entertainers to ask themselves, before marketing a violence-soaked film or game: "How will this affect the mentally unstable?"
Mona Charen is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.
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