child well-being

child well-being

Preparing for the Rebuilding of America (and Western Civilization)

child well-being, family, happiness, human capital, marriage, religion No comments

A few years ago I met Don Renzo Bonetti, parish priest near Verona, Italy. He is the founder of a family movement, The Great Mystery Project (“Mistero Grande” in Italian).  He said he was “forming the families who will rebuild Western Civilization after it collapses” and wished me luck with my work in the social sciences, which he thought could play its own role (rather limited) in this rebuilding.

Western civilization is collapsing very quickly — silently in Italy and other European countries, as they gradually disappear, demographically, before our eyes — raucously in US.  Our debate may be the first stage of the next great awakening.  It is not yet a response but there is a widespread awakening to the level of the crisis and a growing desire to do something about it.

The solution, the rebuilding of America, will be aided by our deepest roots as a nation, which are not in our being a particular people or race but in the ideals of freedom, articulated by our Founders as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   But these ideals alone will not be enough to carry the day.

Many institutions need rebuilding: schools, universities, media, movies, and churches. The reform needed for our ideals to flourish again in these will never take hold without the first and most basic reform – the rebuilding of our families.

Such rebuilding of the family is most likely to happen within communities of worship, because it is there that our national experts in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are most to be found: the intact married family that worships God weekly.

Where is life most abundant?  In the intact married family that worships God weekly.  Where is death most absent? In the very same place.

Where is liberty most abundant? Where are children free? Where are women and men most free to achieve the good they desire?  In that same place.

Where are people happiest?  In that same place.  The data is incontrovertible.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness occur most in the intact married family that worships God weekly.

This is the place where the two great loves are most present: love of others and love of God.  And these loves are both the seed and the soil of the rebirth of America.  These families know what to do and they are the most likely to help. This is America’s “Great Mystery”, its great resource.

Spread the word.

 

Pat Fagan

Malleable Human Nature: The Black Hole of Culture

child well-being, children, culture No comments

A most remarkable essay has just been released, Three Necessary Societies  by Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa.  It will likely be referred to repeatedly in years to come as people unwrap its implications.  Among many other issues, Hittinger draws attention to the frightening prospect of the simultaneous serious weakening of all three of the necessary societies needed by man: the family, the church and the polity (civil society, including government).

Hittinger underlines the cause of this simultaneous weakening in the now-deep-seated anthropological assumption that man’s nature is malleable. This assumption shapes the ethos of our day.  It is no wonder then that culture should evaporate.  If culture is a people’s way of acting together to help each other through life, particularly through the important tasks and through the tough periods, the wise practice of those who came before us make little sense if we can shape our nature and our trials and tasks into whatever form we like.   If we can remake marriage, the sacraments, our sexuality, our obligations, our most sacred relationships, even our God who needs guidance on how to do these well.

The implication for families is that cultural support will become very small, and very local.  It will exist only where others we associate with hold to a view of human nature as a given, a nature with potential strengths that need to be cultivated and predicable fault-lines to be guarded against.

In the anthropology of malleable human nature taboos make no sense.  There is no “massively forbidden” act, there are no fundamentally destructive practices, such as abortion or sexual perversions.  Of course if the child is not the ultimate purpose of sexual intercourse anything is permissible.

Set against this is the fact that family life is fragile, as our age has taught us.  There are attitudes and acts to be guarded against if one is to have a strong family.  It was a great comfort for our great grand-parents when the culture did a lot of the guarding and said a lot of the “no”s.  It is the burden of modern parents that they have to do all the explaining, repeatedly, to teenage children tempted by the license of modernity.

One fall-out of the evaporation of culture is that parents are left, more and more, to their own devices in raising children.  They have less support around them.  Culture operates on many different levels in supporting parents: it contains deliberate overt acts, and others that are “just the way it is always done”, still others that are preconscious and subconscious.  Taboos are powerful unconscious cognitive mechanisms that forbid, normally something people are unaware of and beyond consciousness.

Given the erosion of taboos, one of the first tasks of young newly married families is to find other young families with whom they want their children to grow up and the schools likely to have the children they would not mind their own children marrying.  Once married, how quickly the child becomes the center of action for the young married couple and that child’s own remote, future romance and marriage begins to shape the parents’ thinking.

In the absence of an operating guiding culture the newborn child forces parents to begin the construction of culture for themselves.  The child is at the heart of culture, the purpose of culture.  All eyes are on the child for he and she are the future, even the everlasting future, “For of such (little children) is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Pat Fagan, PhD

Director of MARRI at The Catholic University of America

What do NFL Abusers Have in Common?

abuse, child well-being, cohabitation, NFL No comments


Media outlets have been ringing with stories of domestic violence in the NFL: Greg Hardy, Rod Smith, Anthony Ray Jefferson, and, most recently, Ray Rice. But in its obsession with the NFL’s response to its players, the media has overlooked one growing root cause of abuse in these cases: cohabitation. Cohabitation is a breeding ground for domestic abuse against both women and children alike. And, not surprisingly, each NFL player was or had been cohabiting with the woman he beat.
This is, of course, not to blame any of these women for their abuse.  Rather, the link between cohabitation and domestic violence highlights the massive attitudinal differences between what it takes to cohabit and what it takes to marry. If the NFL wants to reduce domestic violence it will become a booster for marriage and it could do well by distributing these charts to all its NFL players and fans.
Social science data confirms this claim. One study found that cohabiting couples were more likely to face difficulties with adultery, drugs, and alcohol than couples who did not cohabit. Likewise, those couples who lived together prior to marring were more likely to exhibit marital issues like permissive sexual relationships and drug problems. Not surprisingly, therefore, cohabiting couples tend to have lower relationship quality, less stability, and more frequent and more extreme disagreements.
The frequency of abuse among cohabiting couples is especially alarming. The rate of violence among cohabiting couples is double the rate for married couples, and the rate for severe violence is almost five times as high. Cohabiters are more likely than married couple to be aggressive, and are more likely to hit, push, or throw things at their partner.
Having unmarried, cohabiting parents also poses a number of risk factors for children. Data shows that children of divorced or never-married mothers are six to 30 times more likely to suffer from serious child abuse than are children raised by their married biological parents. As the British data shows, children whose biological mother cohabits are 73 percent more likely to die from abuse than are children whose biological parents are married. We do not have analogous US data on fatalities, but we have very good federal data on rates of abuse as the other three charts show.

Many support cohabitation as a means to “test drive” a potential marriage. However, far from strengthening future marriages, cohabitation produces risk factors for a slew of marital problems like drinking, fighting, and violence. It’d be best if people stick to watching NFL players for their football skills, and take relationship advice from the experts.

Millennials: a Dilemma for Social Conservatives

chastity, child well-being, commitment, community, family, fathers, happiness, intact family, monogamy, mothers, parents 1 comment
Society is a network of relationships between its citizens. Each citizen’s capacity to relate to others increases or decreases the social cohesiveness and strength of a nation, and each one of those individual citizens’ capacities to relate has been significantly shaped by the family which formed them. As any family therapist will tell you, these family relationships, in turn, are significantly tied to the relationship between the father and mother of that family. As their marital relationship goes, so goes the intra-psychic strength and the social capacity of their children. The marital relationship changes everything in the family. Multiplied a hundred million times in the U.S., it has a massively compounding effect on society—for strength or weakness.

Thus, the relationship between the mother and father figures in a family is the most foundational relationship in society, the “DNA” that influences all the relationships that emanate from it. How the shopkeeper responds to his customers, or the professor to her students, is often quite tied to how they experienced their parents’ marriage. When a marriage breaks apart, it affects a child’s behavior and relational capacity. When a parental relationship is never transformed into marriage (e.g, in out-of-wedlock births or cohabiting households that break up) it alters the child’s social capacity.

Thus, the future of society is structured by the social ordering of this primary sexual relationship. That is the heart of the culture wars.

Change the DNA of the body, and you change the body by altering its whole functioning process. Alter the sexual relationship, and you alter everything else. Political philosophers are very aware of this. Marx and Engels saw this as absolutely necessary for their massive project: the permanent altering of society along the lines of their utopian dream.

Others see this connection even if they do not desire the same outcome as did Marx and Engels. Most bright Millennials understand it. They see that society has to pay a certain price for the sexual choices permitted to them today —choices that were not sanctioned in times past. They will even admit and accept that the innocent children of these sexual acts will have to pay the price. Many are prepared to see such prices paid, and therein lies the dilemma.

Marx and Engels wanted this sexual restructuring; many Millennials accept it. Though Millennials are certainly not all Marxists, it hardly matters: In the cultural and political contest of the day, they will stand aside and let the coercive liberal state march forward in the direction laid out by Marx and Engels.

Are we doomed to some form of coercive Marxist state as our future because of the sexual choices many in our society treasure? Other than widespread religious conversion, I do not see much potential for change in the right direction; hence, I invite your comments. Is religious conversion the only route?

The Comparative Health and Sickness of America’s Racial and Ethnic Groups

child well-being, children, family, generations, MARRI, marriage No comments


The National Center for Family and Marriage Research  at Bowling Green State University has just issued a research report on the rates of “first marriage” across different racial/ethnic groups. Interestingly, the ranking of those rates closely parallels the cross-racial/ethnic ranking of the Index of Family Belonging (the fraction of 15- to 17-year-olds who have grown up in an intact married family, which has not changed measurably in the last 3 years) published by The Marriage and Religion Research Institute.


Remarkably, Asians (whose Index of Family Belonging MARRI shows to be 65 percent) enter marriage at a rate of 6.2 percent (62 per thousand adults) each year. Whites have an Index of 54 percent, while they have a (first) marriage-entry rate of 51 per thousand adults. Hispanics have an Index of Family Belonging of 41 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 40 per thousand native-born Hispanic adults (though the entry into first marriage among immigrant Hispanics is 60 per thousand immigrant adult Hispanics, illustrating that immigrant Hispanics are stronger on marriage and family than acculturated Hispanics). Black Americans have an Index of Family Belonging of 17 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 20 per thousand adult Black Americans.

Overall, the United States presently has an Index of Family Belonging of 46 percent and an entry rate into first marriage of 45 per thousand adult Americans.

Thus, the proportion of children who grow up in an intact married family parallels the rate of entry into first marriage. That the ranking of the cross-racial/ethnic (childhood) family intactness and marriage entry rates resemble one another makes sense. It is interesting that the rate of entry into first marriage is markedly higher amongst immigrant Hispanics than among native-born Hispanics. This pattern of greater marital and family strength repeats itself across a number of measures on Hispanic Americans, indicating that America’s cultural influence is not always a blessing for immigrants, though clearly its material blessings are.

Because the marriage relationship is foundational to the future strength of the child when he or she becomes an adult, these data indicate that the next generation of Asian Americans may be our strongest racial/ethnic group and that they may continue to outpace other racial/ethnic groups. Sadly, it is likely that African American children (and, later, adults) will continue to fall further and further behind those from all other racial/ethnic groups.

Marriage has a massive and permanent effect on children. No other institution has a comparable influence on the life and wellbeing of a child. The implications of the decline of marriage in America have been clear for some time, as a different Bowling Green reportillustrates, and this means America may weaken into the future, as well, across myriad critical outcomes that spending alone cannot change. Such compensatory hopes are the basis of the welfare state. But the first human welfare is a married mother and father who stay so to raise their children in strength.

Marriage: Its Constant and Increasingly Important Contribution to the Economy

child well-being, children, divorce, economics, fathers, intact family, marriage, men 2 comments

Not until the withdrawal from marriage of the last fifty years has the West been able to see so clearly its powerful contribution to all aspects of society including the economy.

Gary Becker’s work brought the family back into economics (where it had been the foundational unit of economics in the beginning, as laid out by the common sense of Aristotle). Becker’s vein of research has gained more traction and has influenced the work of many other Nobel Laureates, including Robert Lucas (1995): macro growth theory of expectations; James Heckman (2000): econometric theory of samples; and George Akerlof (2001): Keynesian market economics. 

Marriage makes men different. And if it does not, their marriages either end or are unhappy. 

Among the economic differences that marriage makes in men, two stand out: they work harder (married men are more productive, and an area’s minor dependency ratio is strongly associated with employment among adult men aged 25 to 54), and thus earn more (their incomes increase 26 percent). 

Conversely, divorce has a major negative impact, reducing the income of the child-raising household by 30 percent or more while driving down the growth rate of the economy by one sixth every year for the last 20 years. This latter happens because divorced men, on average, decrease their productivity enormously.

In education, the precondition for a good wage in the modern economy, marriage is a key ingredient to the productivity of children in their learning. The early home environment lays down a foundation that has an extremely powerful effect later in life. Children born into a married family have a tremendous educational advantage, which is evidenced by graduation rates right through to the college level.

Married families are much more economically efficient households, a characteristic that is not measured in GDP accounting. What is invisible here is the real resource efficiency of a major section of the economy (the home economy). Many married home economies do much better internally because of this totally neglected aspect of productivity.

As the poor and the working class (even into the middle class quintile 3) withdraw from marriage, the productivity of the U.S. declines and the burden on the welfare system increases. Furthermore, the success of the social and welfare policies developed over the last decades greatly depend on the health of marriage. Failing to recognize this dependence, U.S. welfare policies continue to fail to lift people out of poverty (even as the economy grows and world markets massively expand).

Marriage is increasingly the dividing line between those who can learn, who can work in an information economy, who save, who own their own homes, who live happier lives, and who live healthier and longer.

Until now, marriage has been the hidden ingredient of a vibrant economy.

The new myth: divorce is not too bad for children

child well-being, children, Christianity, divorce, intact family, MARRI, marriage No comments

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director, Marriage and Religion Research Institute

Here is a question for the two authors of the Scientific American’s recent article on the not-so-bad effects of divorce.

Why is it that in all measures of outcomes at the national level children of divorce as a group do significantly worse than children of intact married families?  If divorce has so little effect why do these big effects constantly appear, in virtually every measure measured?  Even remarriage does not wipe out most of them, and even intensifies some of them … at the group level.  
 
On every outcome measured children of divorce as a group do worse, significantly worse.   That is a generalization but one that holds.  For a fairly recent overview and synthesis of the findings see The Effects of Divorce on Children.

Not all children suffer all the possible bad effects and different children suffer to different degrees, even within the same family.  This provides some consolation to parents who divorce, but little to those who did not want divorce yet had to endure it.

As a former therapist who helped some awful marriages turn around I know how helpless the spouse is who wants to make the marriage work while the other spouse just wants out.   When both, even in awful and abusive marriages, want to make it work, such marriages can be made whole again.  But when one spouse in a relatively decent marriage wants out there is nothing that can be done.  Spouse and therapist are helpless (though there are things a good therapist can try with the willing spouse to get the other to change her mind — more women want out than do men— but such is a long shot and both know it).  

None of the literature reviewed talked about the sexual difficulties of children of divorce: out of wedlock births (but many protest that is OK too),  early sexual involvement (but other protest that is OK too),  cohabitation before marriage (but many protest that is OK too), and their own much higher rates of divorce after they marry (but that brings us back full circle).

The article seems more like a justification and rationalization of the radical individualism involved in the breakup of a marriage. More than half of American parents split whether in divorce, after cohabitation or by not coming together at all.  By age 17 fifty four percent of American children have parents who have rejected each other.  This intimate family experience of the deepest of rejections has lasting effects, some overt and easily measured by sociologists, others much more subtle but happiness-robbing and visible only in therapy or experienced only by spouses of children of divorce.

Western Civilization was built on stable marriage, a phenomenon Christianity gave the West and with it all the treasures and strengths of stable family life.  Not all Christians lived Christ’s way but many did and they shaped law, society, expectations in myriad ways to give societies that stability with all its benefits.   But modern man, including most modern Americans, even American Christians, find Christianity too hard and are leaving it or the harder parts behind. They are free to choose but they are not free to choose the consequences:  more instability in family, more chaos in society, and less developed human beings overall.
 
Christians have to learn to live with these burdens that others place on society as a whole and thus on them as well.  Early Christians lived in societies rife with these burdens.

We are going into a new phase in history that will not be as happy, nor as easy as it was half a century ago.   Welcome to suffering,  and to the self-justification of those who don’t want to make their marriages work when they get “bad”.  The only way to turn this around is for Christians to live marriage and family life as they are called to live it.  Eventually others will say again “See how they love one another”.  Then they will want back in.  Freedom works both ways: leaving and coming back.

Does Absence Really Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

adoption, child well-being, children, economics, family, mothers No comments

By MARRI Intern

Olivia Walton from The Waltons and June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver are just two idealistic television mothers who shaped the idea of what moms were supposed to be. Throughout the years, we have seen drastic changes in the role that women are expected to have in society. Women can be torn between societal expectations and what they personally desire. This is often the case when they are faced with the choice (or the need) to work outside the home, especially if they have young children.
The ratio of stay-at-home moms to mothers who are work full-time outside the home has fluctuated greatly over the years. An articlefrom the UK Daily Mail that was published this past spring highlighted the great value contributed by stay-at-home moms. Not only does their staying home benefit the child or children involved, but it benefits society as a whole, because strong families are the foundation of a strong society.
The attachment theory developed by the psychologist John Bowlby (1907-1990) states that a child needs to be in a loving, stable environment with a consistent primary caregiver in order to develop in a healthy manner. The above noted Daily Mail article noted that the first three years of a child’s life are the most critical years of development and that the child’s greatest need is to feel loved and secure. How the child is treated and the relationships which are established within the first three years are good predictors of the child’s future. However, if this is true and the majority of mothers are in fact working full-time, how will this affect our society?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 about 70.5 percent of women who had children 18 years old and younger were in the workforce. When mothers spend the majority of their time working outside of the home, their children may not be able to establish a secure attachment to them, especially when they are younger. This attachment is critically important for the child’s development and foundational to all of their future relationships. Depression and behavioral issues are common childhood outcomes linked back to the lack of a secure attachment with their mother (or primary caregiver), the Daily Mail post above states. Sadly, this often means that the child’s needs were not met emotionally or, perhaps at times, physically.
Typically, attachment theory has been associated with the issue of adoption, particularly because it can be difficult to establish a secure attachment if the child is adopted at an older age.  However, whether the child concerned is adopted or one whose primary caregiver is in the workforce, it is of vital importance to establish this deep connection. Additional information on adoption and attachment theory can be found within thisMARRI publication on the benefits of adoption.

Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children

child well-being, children, culture, family, fathers, marriage, mothers, social media No comments


By MARRI Intern
Recently on Slate, author Amy Webb recounted the story of a friend who frequently posts pictures of her young daughter on Facebook. In her opinion, these digital memories are irreversibly “preventing [the daughter] from any hope of future anonymity.” In reaction to this modern way of public life, before Webb’s daughter was even born she and her husband created social media profiles and a Gmail account for their child. When she is old enough their daughter will have access to an online presence, if she so chooses. Now that their daughter has been born, they diligently monitor social media websites to ensure that none of their friends or relatives posts pictures or personal information about their child.
While Webb’s prerogative as a parent is not in question, she does raise an interesting (and rather concerning) question: what are parents doing to children’s futures by putting them in the public spotlight before they are conscious of the decision? In the past, baby pictures were kept at home in an album; today they are broadcast on the internet. Before modern technology, a person had to know the parents to be able to see a child’s pictures; now, depending on your internet privacy know-how, anyone can see them, including corporate face recognition software. There are babies and children on social media news feeds that users have never met and likely never will because they are the step-nephew-in-law of their college roommate’s best friend (or something like that). While there are cynical applications to remove babies from their news feeds, this is not the point. The point is that society has changed. Americans are increasingly willing to share private details of their lives in a public forum, sometimes with unfortunate negative consequences.
There are countless stories of parents finding pictures of their children being used for advertising, for fake online accounts or even for child pornography. Furthermore, many children born into this generation will have had an online presence since before they were born (think sonogram pictures). American parents have shifted from protecting their children’s privacy to publicly displaying their children. Sons and daughters have arguably become yet another possession that one may flaunt before neighbors. How many “likes” will I get if I post a picture of my child doing x? Look at my baby’s adorable new clothes! And on it goes. Even celebrities effectively place a dollar value on their children by selling the rights to their baby’s first pictures. Parents’ love for and adoration of their children is certainly not in question here, but are these parents devaluing their child by sharing him or her with the world?
Perhaps these parents could instead spend their efforts on become more actively involved in their children’s lives and education to ensure the best chance for their success. Click here for more information from MARRI on what involvement in your child’s life at a young age can mean for his or her development.

May I have this [politically-correct, gender-ambiguous, tolerance-driven] dance?

child well-being, culture, education, family, gender, single parents 1 comment
By Lindsay Smith, Intern
By now you have probably heard the story: a single mom felt her daughter was being excluded from a school function, and voilà, no more father-daughter dances or mother-son baseball games in Rhode Island’s Cranston school district.  According to the superintendent, these events violate gender discrimination laws.  This mom, this superintendent, these lawyers were probably just trying to prevent kids from getting hurt, at least we will give the benefit of the doubt to their motives.  However, I am all too concerned about what research reveals: banning events like these harms the entire student body. 
Parents are important. Not surprisingly, abundant research supports this truth, especially in education.  On average, children from intact married families earn higher test scores, have higher high school GPAs, are less likely to drop out of school, and have better behavior than their peers.  In addition, “adolescent children of single-parent families or stepfamilies reported that their parents had lower educational expectations for them, were less likely to monitor schoolwork, and supervised social activities less than the parents of children in intact biological families.”  Based on these findings, one can see parental involvement directly correlates with academic success.  
 
Sadly, Cranston’s ruling reduces parental involvement, which at its core is fruitful to the district.  Cranston removed events which promote positive interaction.   I have never been employed as a teacher, but I would imagine most educators are thankful for engaged and helpful parents.  While I am not a teacher, I was a student, and can verify that involved parents, whether my own or another child’s, positively impacted my classroom experience.    The student body benefits when parents invest in education, in the school, and in the school’s activities.  The mayor of Cranston summarizes these findings well when he said, “[The events] contribute to the well being of our children as a whole.”Fathers taking their daughters to a school dance is positive.  Mothers taking their sons to a school baseball game is good, not because it promotes a child’s exclusion, but because it encourages parental participation. 
I do believe every child should have the chance to benefit from these activities.  I do believe every child can have an equal opportunity to attend – not by minimizing the traditional family (gender roles included) but by promoting it.  I heard it said once, “The problem is not that we have too much of Christ in our marriage; it’s that we don’t have enough.”  The same principle applies here.  People are not excluded because there is too little family love but because there is not enough.  Let me put some concrete words to this theory. 
Growing up, both sets of my grandparents lived over 10 hours away.  It wasn’t practical for them to attend my school functions.  However, when it came time for “Grandparentslunch day” at my elementary school, our sweet, elderly neighbor or my friend’s grandmother would always show up to eat with me.  Would I have liked my biological grandparents to be there?  Absolutely, but that doesn’t negate the wonderful times I had with these women who sacrificed their time for me.  I felt special; I felt loved; I felt included.    I propose a better solution is not to eliminate the event, but rather to embrace the child.  Allow traditional families to show what love and support look like and invite a child whose mom or dad can’t attend, whatever the reason.  Surely there are fathers, grandfathers, uncles, mentors in this community who would gladly take this young girl to the dance.  I bet there are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, who would gladly take another boy to the baseball game with their family.  Support the family, and support these traditions not in spite of the students but for their betterment.  When the family is stronger, education is stronger, and that’s something that should make us all get up and dance.