The “Marriage Gap” and Our Children’s Future

Wednesday, February 8, 2006 — One quick follow-up item before today’s main entry….

I’m happy to confirm that our First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush, has accepted an invitation to sit down with me for an interview immediately following her Thursday morning private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Our conversation will cover a full range of issues, including ones treated in this blog. Thanks to all of you who have sent me suggested questions. Tune in to FOX News Channel at 8:20 a.m., 11:45 a.m., and 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time to see portions of the interview.

In honor of Coretta Scott King: The “Marriage Gap” and Our Children’s Future

The remarks of some guest speakers at Coretta Scott King’s funeral yesterday were a shameless, brazen attack on the spirit of Mrs. King herself. Regular readers know that I have no problem criticizing this administration when I believe they are not fulfilling their moral duty to lead and to defend the most vulnerable. But to take cheap shots at the president and his wife about NSA wiretapping, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Katrina, as they attend a funeral is despicable and un-American. Hard to believe preachers and an ex-president wouldn’t have known better.

In honor of Coretta Scott King’s quest for social development of the most needy, today I want to discuss the astonishing statistical relationship between the marriage status of parents and the social success of their children. While some mock traditional marriage as an outdated social construct, economists and educators are giving us hard data that shows that marriage stability plays a key factor in the success of our youth. Here’s my attempt at making these telling stats digestible:

“Have you heard about The Marriage Gap?” I asked.

The D.C. policy wonk scratched his head. “Well, there was something called a “marriage gap” in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Bush overwhelmingly won the votes of married people, and Gore and Kerry the unmarried.”

“No, not that,” I said. “What I’m talking about is a Great American Problem. It’s huge! It’s threatening! It’s something that we need to throw lots of money at!”

That got his attention. “Then why haven’t I heard about it?”

“I have my theory,” I said, “but first you should read Kay S. Hymowitz’s article in the winter edition of City Journal. The idea is that America is being split into two groups: a permanently rich upper class and a lower class mired in perpetual poverty. Nasty stuff. But only sociologists know about it, and the only place it gets talked about is in specialty journals.”

He wasn’t listening. “Yeah,” he mused, “we talk a lot about the two Americas. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Then there’s the red-state blue-state divide, the religious fanatics and the irreligious, city folk and country folk. All that kind of stuff. It makes for good headlines. Maybe we all believe it to a certain extent, but it always seemed kind of artificial to me. Maybe Americans just like to believe in an us-and-them kind of world.”

Weapons of Marriage Destruction

“That’s the difference!” I said. “This is Us and Us. Let me explain. In the 1960s, the American family pushed a big red self-destruct button. The sexual revolution, the divorce revolution, the feminist revolution — and then bang! Divorce skyrocketed, single motherhood skyrocketed, and abortion on demand was just around the corner.”

“But things have stabilized now,” he interjected.

“Thanks be to God,” I said. “But look what happened. Around 1980, a subtle split set in. The divorce rate started to decline among college-educated women and illegitimacy stayed low. But less-educated women began to stop marrying and kept divorcing. Now, in 2006, the vast majority of single-parent children are born to low-income twentysomethings. They’re 33% of the total population, and 70% of black children.

Sure, between 40-50% of marriages end up in divorce court, but most of those divorces affect lower-income less-educated women. As Hymowitz says, 92% of children whose families make over $75,000 are living with both parents. Families earning under $15,000? Only 20% live with both parents.”

“Fine, Father,” he said, “but those are just statistics.”

“Maybe for policy wonks,” I said. “But not in my line of work. I think of them as individuals, every single mother and child with their life ahead of them. Because look at their future: children in single-parent homes get less attention, spend less time with their folks, have fewer economic opportunities, and in the end they get less education. A college-educated mom is worried about giving her kids the best possible education and formation so that they can get into the best universities. A single mom is working hard just to make ends meet. It’s a marital stability gap perpetuating a cultural and material resource gap. Or check out what Wade Horn, assistant secretary at Health and Human Services, wrote in Crisis Magazine. Among other things, he says that at retirement, married couples have, on average, assets worth two and a half times as much as their single counterparts.”

The Self-Perpetuating Gap

By now he was thinking. “So then it’s self-perpetuating.”

“Exactly,” I said. “That’s the point. Only 10% of kids at America’s top 50 universities have made it there from divorced families. But high-status women are preparing their kids to live the way they lived. Who ends up working on Wall Street and who ends up at Wal-Mart? But maybe you think those are just statistics.”

“No, no,” he said, “this all makes sense. So why haven’t I heard about it before?”

“Well, when’s the last time the mainstream media did anything to promote marriage?” I asked. “But even if they don’t, the simple truth is that man and woman are made for monogamy and marriage, settling down and forming a family. Every other society in human history has been able to figure that out. But we get so much static from so many special interests that we need sociologists and policy wonks to discover it for us.”

Exit Strategies

The point about policy makers made him uncomfortable! “Well, Father, what if we launch some kind of ‘marriage education’ program?”

“Real ‘marriage education’ is growing up in a loving, stable family,” I said. “Let me put it this way. Marriage is a natural institution — it’s wired into who we are. The family is the genuine building-block of society, and children are the greatest treasure and most precious good of each family. The family is irreplaceable. None of that can simply be wished away by legislation.

“Now let’s turn the Marriage Gap inside out,” I continued. “Can you imagine what America would be like if divorce was almost nonexistent?”

The wheels were whirring in his head. “Huge economic benefits, higher education, greater stability in general, lawyers out of work. Amazing.”

“We’ve been there before,” I said. “Pre-1960s America was a lot better off in this regard. Except for the part about the lawyers. Now how can we turn back the clock? By the way, people who go to church more often end up in divorce court less.”

But by then he had tuned me out and was dreaming up a new federal agency and the preamble for the Marriage Gap Act of 2007.

Take care and God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. Friday we’ll take a look at your comments and my responses to the Muslim cartoon fiasco.

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