FAMILY NEWS FROM DR. JAMES DOBSON
BY DR. JAMES DOBSON
May I ask you busy people to pause long enough to read this letter? I know your mailbox is filled with stuff you find difficult to review, but the message expressed this month is worth a few minutes of your time. It concerns the institution of marriage, and what is happening to it.
What I want to share is a vitally important new report that was released in June. It has implications for every family and is entitled, “The State of Our Unions–The Social Health of Marriage in America.” This study was produced by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, and was conducted by two highly respected researchers, Dr. David Popenoe, professor of social and behavioral sciences, and Dr. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author and social critic. Their findings are very sobering.
The final report began with this overview: “Key social indicators suggest a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage. Americans have become less likely to marry. When they do marry, their marriages are less happy. And married couples face a high likelihood of divorce. Over the past four decades, marriage has declined as the first living together experience for couples and as a status of parenthood. Unmarried cohabitation and unwed births have grown enormously, and so has the percentage of children who grow up in fragile families.”)
This statement summarizes the most important findings to emerge from the lengthy study. The specifics are as follows:
“As a couples relationship, marriages are more likely to be broken by divorce than by death. And although one might expect that greater freedom to leave an unhappy marriage might increase the chances that intact marriages would be very happy, this does not seem to be the case. Marriages are less happy today than in past decades.”2
“As a rite of passage, marriage is losing much of its social importance and ritual significance. It is no longer the standard pathway from adolescence to adulthood for young adults today. It is far less likely to be closely associated with the timing of first sexual intercourse for young women and less likely to be the first living together union for young couples than in the past.”3
“As an adult stage in life course, marriage is shrinking. Americans are living longer, marrying later, exiting marriage more quickly, and choosing to live together before marriage, after marriage,
in between marriages, and as an alternative to marriage. A small but growing percentage of American adults will never marry. As a consequence, marriage is surrounded by longer periods of partnered or unpartnered singlehood over the course of a lifetime.”4
“As an institution, marriage has lost much of its legal, religious and social meaning and authority. It has dwindled to a ‘couples relationship,’ mainly designed for the sexual and emotional
gratification of each adult. Marriage is also quietly losing its place in the language. With the growing plurality of intimate relationships, people now tend to speak inclusively about ‘relationships’ and ‘intimate partners,’ burying marriage within this general category. Moreover, some elites seem to believe that support for marriage is synonymous with far-right political or religious views, discrimination against single parents, and tolerance of domestic violence.”5
“Among young women, social confidence in marriage is wavering. Until very recently, young women were highly optimistic about their chances for marital happiness and success. Now, according to youth surveys, their confidence in their ability to achieve successful marriage is declining. Moreover, they are notably more accepting of alternatives to marriage, such as unwed Parenthood and cohabitation.”6
“At the national policy level, marriage has received remarkably little bipartisan study or attention During a four-decade period of dramatic historic change in marriage, no national studies, government commissions or task forces have been set up to examine the status of marriage or to propose measures to strengthen it. Indeed, the United States lags well behind England, Australia, and Canada in the level and seriousness of governmental response to the widespread evidence of the weakening of marriage.”7
Here are key statistics about today’s families and cultural attitudes toward them:
Since 1970 there has been a decline of more than one-third in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 women.8
The percentage of adults in the population at any one time who are married has also diminished. However, the number of unmarried cohabiting couples continue to increase (865 percent since 1960).9
The number of intact married couples who rate their marriage as “very happy” has decreased. (In 1973, 67.4 percent said their marriages were “very happy.” That percentage decreased to 61.9 percent in 1996.) 10 It has been estimated that after ten years only 25 percent of first marriages are successful, (i.e., intact and reportedly happy). 11
The average median age for marriage is the highest in American history. It presently stands at 27 for men and
The percentage of adults who are presently divorced has quadrupled since 1960. 13
The percentage of children in single-parent families has risen from 9 percent in 1960 to 28 percent in 1998. 14 Thirty-five percent of children now live apart from their biological fathers. 15
The percentage of teenage boys and girls who said that having a good marriage and family life was “extremely important” has increased. For girls, this percentage has increased from 80.2 percent in 1980 to 83.1 percent in 1995. 16 For boys, the percentage has increased from 69.4 percent in 1980 to 72.9 percent in 1995.’7 Unfortunately, the percentage of teens who have accepted cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing has increased as well. In 1980, only 32.3 percent of girls felt that cohabitation was a good idea. The figure now stands at 54.6 percent. 18 In 1980, 44.9 percent of boys felt cohabitation was a good idea, compared with 62 percent now. 19 More than 50 percent of teenagers state that out-of-wedlock childbearing is now a “worthwhile lifestyle.” 20
Do these findings grab at your stomach, as they do mine? Behind the dry statistics and social trends are millions of hurting people–husbands, wives and children for whom everything stable and predictable has shattered. They represent the pain of loving wives who committed themselves wholly and unreservedly to men who later rejected them for other lovers. They speak of husbands who are struggling to raise their kids alone because their wives decided they didn’t want to be mothers anymore. And of course, they reflect the pain of children who cry themselves to sleep at night because they can hear their parents at each other’s throats.
These numbers from the Rutgers University study also foretell the death of the family in the Western world, unless a dramatic turnaround occurs. If it disintegrates, social chaos will be inevitable.
Increasing numbers of children will grow up in poverty and insecurity. The family, which is the greatest vehicle ever devised for teaching boys and girls about right and wrong and the gospel of Jesus Christ, will have collapsed. Subsequent generations of lost and rootless kids will inherit a society without moral absolutes or traditional values. Gone will be the tenderness and unselfishness that occurs when a man and woman form an unbreakable bond of commitment to one another. Single women will bear and raise children, whether on purpose or accidentally, and struggle mightily to survive emotionally and financially on their own.
Of equal concern is the impact of lifelong singleness on men. Social commentator George Gilder made it clear in his classic book, Men and Marriage that men who accept the responsibility for a family are often motivated in ways that benefit the entire society. 21 They typically channel their sexual energies to produce growth, creativity, frugality, sacrifice and protection for those who depend on them. In the absence of exclusive and committed marriage, however, their masculine aggressiveness and sexual appetites are inclined toward short-term pleasure-seeking, anti-social behavior, and selfishness. This is particularly true when faith in Jesus Christ is missing. In the worst scenario. These men become alcoholics, drug abusers, sexual predators, drifters and violent criminals. If you doubt that understanding, look at areas of the United States and other parts of the world, notably Russia, where marriage has disintegrated and millions of children are raised on the streets. There and elsewhere we see large numbers of lost and sometimes violent men whose energies are used for destructive purposes rather than edification and growth.
In short, the institution of marriage is absolutely critical to everything we have known in Western civilization. It is a centerpiece of the Judeo-Christian system of values. That’s why I find it difficult to understand why so many of our nation’s political leaders fail to grasp that fundamental fact. They should be working diligently to support and strengthen the family in every way possible. How can we explain, given this significance, why they continue to hammer this historic institution that has already been driven to its knees? Characteristic of this lack of concern, Congress has let stand a “marriage penalty” for 30 years which imposes an average additional tax of $1,400 on 21 million American married couples and their children. 22 Can you think of any reason on earth why moms and dads who are clothing and feeding and caring for children, binding their wounds and tucking them in at night, should have to pay more in taxes than those who are
living together in temporary, often serial relationships? Why has it been necessary for ours and other pro-family organizations to fight tooth and nail with our political leaders to get them to redress this simple inequity?
Finally this summer, after an outpouring of agitated phone calls and letters that paralyzed the offices of Republican leaders, they rewrote their tax bill and included a provision that would have reduced the marriage penalty by raising he standard deduction for married couples that do not itemize from $7,200 to $8,600 by the year 2005.23 This would result in an average tax cut of $243 per couple. For those families who do itemize, the bill would have expanded their eligibility for the lowest tax rate of 15 percent, cutting their taxes by up to $1,000 per year.24 This wasn’t enough and it came far too late, but GOP leaders did at least make a stab at lessening this terrible injustice. It passed in both the House and the Senate, despite strenuous opposition to the tax cut bill by the Democratic leadership. Then, regrettably, President Bill Clinton vetoed the bill and thereby preserved the infamous penalty.25 He said it would “squander the surplus” to give it back to taxpayers.26 Why does that not surprise us? Families have few lobbyists to make their case in Washington and moms and dads are too busy raising their kids to represent their own interests in government. That’s why they are frequently shortchanged, especially by liberals in the Congress.
While criticizing those in Congress who have been unwilling to address the marriage penalty, it is fair to thank GOP leaders in the House who have, in recent weeks, passed legislation to legalize the placing of the Ten Commandments in schools and government buildings,27 to impose serious penalties on anyone for harming an unborn baby in the committing of a crime,28 to make it federal offense to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion 29 and other encouraging legislation. As we are critical when our leaders disappoint us, we should express appreciation when they act to promote moral principles and the family.
There remain other biases operating against marriage, however. As observed in the Rutgers study, the word itself is quietly losing its place in the language. Have you noticed that politicians rarely refer to the “M” word these days? Listen carefully in coming months and you’ll see that this is accurate. Most candidates for high office, including those running for the presidency, talk often about “the family” and “traditional values,” but they seldom mention marriage. Why not? Because that God-inspired institution has become politically incorrect. It is reviled as offensive to those living together out of wedlock and to some homosexual activists.
Here’s more evidence of our changing attitudes toward marriage. The United States Census Bureau recently announced that for the first time in history, it will not be collecting data on marriage, divorce, and related matters.30 Bureaucrats have decided that traditional families aren’t that important anymore.
Similar forces are operating in Canada. In Quebec, it is now unlawful for a woman to adopt her husband’s last name. Apparently, the reasoning is that since divorce is so common, it is too expensive for official records to be changed periodically. The officials also thought that the custom violated current perspectives regarding “male-female equality.”31
University professors and other professional institutions are also taking their toll on the family. Study after study audaciously “confirms” the obsolescence of traditional marriage and parenthood,
apparently for political reasons. We saw that kind of nonsense reported several months ago by the American Psychological Association. These are the people, you will recall, who told us that children are not typically harmed by adult-child sex!32 Even the House of Representatives voted 355-0 to condemn the APA for that one!33 More recently, they published an article in American Psychologist entitled, “reconstructing the Essential Father,” which asserted that dads are no longer considered important to child rearing.34 Imagine that! They simply aren’t needed at home. Women can do the job quite well without them, thank you very much. Feminist Gloria Steinem told us 20 years ago that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”35 Alas, according to the ultra-liberal APA, she was right!
Of greatest concern for the family, I believe, is the vigorous campaign being waged by homosexual activists to change the very definition of marriage. For many thousands of years in cultures around the world, the union between the sexes has consisted of one man and one woman in a binding, permanent relationship. Although it sometimes failed, that was the intent and the usual result. But now, powerful forces are working to permit two men or two women to “marry.” That will destroy the legal underpinnings of the family. If same sex marriages become lawful, then
why not also recognize it for other patterns of association. Why not one man and three women, or four men, or a man and five women? Anything can become lawful. Indeed, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that citizens have a constitutional right to define their “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”36 What he was saying is that each of us can make our own rules, rather than conforming to what the founding fathers referred to as “nature and nature’s God.”37 If that idea takes root, the institution of marriage will be finished.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY MAGAZINE, 1999, PAGES 1-4. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.