While the judiciary battles over Texas’s heartbeat law and the U.S. Supreme Court near an opportunity to defend the unborn, one pro-abortion argument insists men should be required to take care of their children and the women they impregnate. To which conservatives reply: congratulations on discovering the family.
As the late Michael Novak, recipient of the Templeton Prize and renowned philosopher, once remarked, “Marriage, the family unit, was the ‘original Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.’” Unfortunately, these days, the fundamental foundation for societal well-being – strong marriages and intact families – is crumbling at an alarming rate, and not just among the poor. This disintegration has alarming consequences for all aspects of our society.
“It is not money, but the family that is the foundation of public life,” observed James Q. Wilson, a renowned professor of government at Harvard University. “As it has become weaker, every structure built upon that foundation has become weaker.”
Those two statements are applicable in light of a new study from Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin. He found that, over the past 25 years, nonmarital childbearing has greatly increased among women of all educational levels, with the sharpest percentage increase among women who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Of that group, 24.5 percent of women who were between the ages of 32 and 38 in 2017-2018 were not married when they had their first child. In contrast, in 1996, only 4 percent of women in that age group were not married when they gave birth for the first time. (Compared to women of other educational levels, college-educated women were more likely to be married when they had their second child.)
Interestingly, 1996 was just four years after then-Vice President Dan Quayle was roasted for his “Murphy Brown” speech in which he criticized American culture’s glamorization of single parenting, especially among highly educated women. Now, a couple of decades years later, many sociologists from across the political spectrum agree with the former vice president. Unfortunately, the social trends Quayle recognized have resulted in the past quarter-century’s six-fold explosion in unmarried mothers among college-educated women.
This trend has been exacerbated by three phenomena: the rise in cohabitating couples who have children without getting married, the increasing lack of men who have the maturity and means to be good husbands and fathers, and the societal message that says to women that you do not need a man, except for his sperm, to have and raise a child. The result is this alarming rise in single parenting, regardless of educational status.
As our society has increased opportunities for women, a good thing I affirm, we have witnessed a decline in responsible behavior among some men, resulting in an increasing number of perpetual male adolescents who “fail to launch” into adulthood, seemingly directionless and unwilling to accept personal responsibility.
The issue of missing fathers and apathetic men, regardless of socioeconomic status, has serious consequences for society. Single mothers can be great mothers, but in a single-parent household there is something lacking that is necessary for children’s emotional and mental development. That something lacking is a loving, self-confident father.
Seeking to fill the void left by the absence of a loving father can tempt fatherless girls to become severely depressed, self-destructive, or sexually promiscuous. Boys more often deal with that void through anger, rage, or apathy. While we know of single mothers who have done heroic jobs in raising self-confident and successful children, in most cases society reaps the negative consequences of what we have sown over the past 25 years – children who have no concept of an intact family.
Writer Tim Carney perhaps put it best: “We are left, then, with a society where intact families are not the norm, but something of a luxury good. That’s hardly a healthy foundation.” As Wilson pointed out, once that foundation gets weaker, every other structure upon which our society is built gets weaker as well.
If we are going to bring about American restoration, we need to start with this foundation first – providing opportunities for both women and men to reach their fullest potential while equipping and encouraging them to be the wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers who are necessary to raise healthy future generations.