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.

The People-Forming Institutions: Preparing the Soil

children, church, education, family, MARRI, religion, social institutions No comments
By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

Although there are five basic institutions in society, only three of them are what I call “person-forming”.  The marketplace and government function to protect individuals and to provide for goods and services, but they do not function to directly form the individual.  It is the family, the church, and the school that shape character, instill moral principles (which are universal and timeless), and which develop the person as a whole.  Thus these three institutions serve society in this, the most foundational and critical of its long range tasks.  They each play a direct role in the formation of a person as he moves toward adulthood—additionally, the marketplace and government rely on the primacy of these three person-forming institutions in order to have people capable of serving in their economic and citizen roles.

Why are the institutions of family, church, and school able to form an individual while the institutions of marketplace and government are not?  The answer profoundly impacts our national discussion about policies and their implications.  Even more importantly, as we delve deeply into this question, we can see more clearly what it means to be human.

There is something foundational to human life that the institutions of marketplace and government simply cannot provide: it is the intimate relational formation of a person.  People’s deepest need is relational—love, care, affection, and personalized guidance.  In the family, a child finds the nurturing intimacy he needs.  In the church, he finds the relational intimacy with the divine that speaks to his soul’s questions.  In the school, through good relationships with his teachers, he learns how to understand the world in which he will soon act.  The marketplace and the government are the institutions through which he can later exercise who he has become through the shaping of his family, church, and school.  When it comes to directly forming who he is, however, marketplace and government have significantly less direct impact—though, in their proper context, laws can teach a great deal, and services from the dark side of the economy can corrupt (e.g. pornography).

As we will explore in future blog postings, the consequences are grave if we misunderstand the distinct nature of the person-forming institutions.  To return to our farming analogy: it is ignorant and futile for a farmer to expect abundant crops and sustainable returns without first preparing the soil for harvest, planting good seeds, and caring for the land.  Failure to do so results in stunted crop growth and insufficient income for the farmer.

Similarly, we must protect the “three sacred spaces” of family, church and school to permit the harmonizing of the person-forming tasks:  the family, where the child most deeply develops as a relating and belonging person; the church, where he orients himself to life and its big issues; and the school, where he learns about the world around him and how to make sense of it.  As the farming analogy shows, a child’s future productivity and stability depend on the person-forming institutions’ foundational actions.  Giving improper weight to the instrumental institutions—or disconnecting the person-forming ones from each other—will lead to societal destabilization (indeed, this is already happening).  When families are treasured and intact, when those families worship God weekly, and when schools aid the work of parents in teaching children according to their worldviews: children from such families thrive, and a society made of these families grows in well-being.  Such is the task of each generation—of all societies, across the globe.  These are universal truths.

Life: a Matter of Convenience?

abortion, child birth, children, economics, family, pro-life No comments

By Avery Pettway, Intern

       Though pro-life advocates can rejoice that the crux of the debate is no longer the question of when life begins, we continue on in an often frustrating conversation with pro-choice commentators. With the life of the fetus scientifically confirmed, choice advocates have become more fixated on nuances and thought patterns that can emotionally inflame the public while distracting from the reality of what abortion is. Amanda Marcotte’s recent article in Slate, “AUL’s ‘Life List’ Crowns the ‘All Star’ States That Attack Women’s Rights Best,” harps on what she claims is the safety imbalance between “extremely low-complication abortions” and the “condition known as child birth that usually requires hospitalization and much more invasive medical interventions.” Indeed, it is difficult at some level to foresee arguments such as this one because of their unfounded logical assumptions, but nevertheless, we must combat them with reason and research.

        For starters, Marcotte’s assertion that “child birth is 14 times more dangerous than legal abortion” is false according to the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pregnancy and childbirth may be laborious and intense, but it is a natural process of the life cycle supported and strengthened by modern technology—abortion, on the other hand, is far from a natural process and should be regarded skeptically because of how it surreptitiously invades the bodies of women and children.
        Even more troubling than inaccurate information, however, is Marcotte’s underlying claim that our basis for judging whether to encourage child birth or abortion is which one is physically less taxing on the woman. If we were to carry out Marcotte’s claim to its logical end, choosing the apparent ease of abortion over time and energy-intensive pregnancies, our society would be in demographic and economic (not just moral) disaster. MARRI research reveals the disturbing extent to which our abortion policy harms our population stability and economic growth. Marcotte’s argument that abortion is less physically dangerous and less expensive than pregnancy quickly breaks down under the study’s finding that “the overall social and economic burdens of the changes created through legalizing abortion eclipse any claimed benefits of the practice…the act undermines the economy, causes disease, and warps society’s most important relationship [of marriage].” When pro-choice advocates are numb to moral accusation, perhaps well-founded portents such as MARRI’s research will strike a new chord with them.

Lessons on Divorce from Henry VIII

children, divorce, education, history, MARRI No comments

By MARRI Intern

        A recent article for Smithsonian Magazine gives a brief history about divorce in the western world. The author tells the story of Henry VIII and his attempts to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon.  In short, Henry VIII needed a son as heir and he went through six wives before he died, never acquiring the heir he required. Beyond the stories of his many wives, Henry VIII is also well-known for forming the Church of England, a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.

Though Henry was eventually granted his annulments via the newly formed Church of England, this new religious body remained very strict with divorce. At first, the laws just made it easier for men to divorce their wives since they only had to prove their spouse had committed adultery. Wives on the other hand had to prove adultery and one additional offence before they could divorce their husbands. As time has gone on, it has become easier for wives to divorce their husbands. In today’s society there is no longer a need to even prove an offense, and divorces can be procured for any reason whatsoever. From the time of Henry VIII to today, divorce has achieved incredible popularity, but in the not too distant past, divorce was looked upon as scandalous and shameful. Today, divorce is so common that nearly everyone knows at least one divorced couple.

Divorce has affected our society in a multitude of ways, from family issues to education to economic prosperity. MARRI research has shown that divorce is harmful, not only to the family but to the economy.  In one MARRI research paper, The Effect of Divorce on Children, Dr. Patrick Fagan shows that divorce weakens the family and one’s relationship with God, diminishes a child’s learning capability, increases crime, and negatively affects the economy. Additional MARRI research has also shown that family structure affects the educational outcomes of children, with those from non-intact families scoring lower on reading and math tests, and earning lower overall GPAs. Furthermore, adolescents raised in a non-intact family are far less likely to attend college as compared to their peers from intact families. For the country as a whole, divorce leads to a decline in economic prosperity due to decreased male productivity. If allowed to continue, the divorce trend spells disaster for both the family and the nation.

Marriage-Minded Community: The Wide Scope of New Research

children, community, family, MARRI, marriage No comments

 By Avery Pettway, Intern
          A new Harvard study released this month entitled “Where is the Land of Opportunity?: The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States” provides expanded insight and a refreshing new weight to the findings of previous MARRI research. As Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project explains in his January 22 article in Slate, this new study takes center stage because it is “the first major study showing that rates of single parenthood at the community level are linked to children’s economic opportunities over the course of their lives.” Experts in the realms of social science and social advocacy have long been pushing for greater attention to be given to the relation between a child’s well-being and the marital status of his parents. And as our own research has revealed, social trends in which the state has a significant interest—particularly the educational success and productive potential of children—are shaped in large part by family intactness. Another MARRI study found that while education, income, race, and ethnicity are all factors to be considered when determining positive outcomes for children, they fall short in significance compared to the level of family intactness. Harvard’s study in effect joins hands with MARRI’s findings, showing the tight link between individual family units and the entire community when it comes to the effects of broken family structure.

To many, the assertion that having married parents helps kids do better in school and in life may seem like the beating of a dead horse—but in fact, such claims are only one facet of a large and problematic reality that we as a society will soon face. Not only does single parenting put the child at greater risk of continued poverty or stagnancy—that parent’s entire community takes a blow. To understand this fully, we must consider the implications of this research in terms of which family status to promote. Marriage must be the encouraged norm of a community in order for people to thrive. In this healthy, stable, relational space, the less common single parents who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances can have the support of a married community to aid them. The intact majority bolsters the non-intact few, and all can be pushed towards mobility and strength—so long as marriage is the dominant culture of the community.

On the other hand, when single parenthood grows and marriage weakens, incomplete parental support becomes the defining culture of the area, ultimately leading a community away from economic mobility and health. As the proportion of those who need stabilizing aid grows relative to those who can give stabilizing aid, that community is already regressing and cannot offer much hope of upward mobility to its children. Encouraging marriage in the political and social realms is not intended to disregard or disrespect the single mother—in fact, as the Harvard study reveals, her children and her neighbors’ children are in theory at a disadvantage if we fail to foster a better alternative. Sadly the subjects of the study—single parents and broken family structure—are becoming more the norm in the United States as divorces increase, out-of-wedlock births rise among many people groups, and marriage loses public and political esteem. If we hope to avoid this broken outcome becoming our national standard of success, married couples must be the driving force in encouraging and supporting marriage for their communities.

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.

An Ode to Grandparents

children, extended family, family, intact family, religion No comments

By Danielle Lee, MARRI Intern

If working with MARRI Research teaches you one thing, it’s that intact married families (pick your state and find out how the belonging index affects social policy outcomes where you live) are the way to go.  Families led by married parentsand that worship together regularly produce children who have better quality relationships, who perform better in school, and who claim to be happier than those raised in other circumstances.
But with studies focused on relationships within the nuclear family, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the the generations of parents that have come before.  This isn’t a gap in the research; it’s a logical inference that is many times forgotten or left un-pursued.  Grandparents are simply the expansion pack of the intact family.
Oh, the stories my grandparents would tell (and that I tell now)!  Of how they got through Soviet checkpoints at the North Korean border by getting all the young ones to cry loudly, or of how one of our ancestors was a political exile centuries back.  Mom and Dad have taught me how to function as a responsible citizen and bring a unique contribution to my community, whereas Grandma and Grandpa have taught me how I belong in the grander scheme of history.
So, why does this matter?  Bruce Feiler of the New York Times recently exposited the correlation between a child’s knowledge of family narrative and history and his or her ability to cope with physical, emotional, and mental traumas.  Children with knowledgeable awareness of their family narrative coped better with stresses, including the devastation of 9/11.
It’s so much more than a coping mechanism, though.  The great 20th century intellectuals pursued originality so aggressively that some were ready to divorce words from their accepted meanings (via written entreaties, ironically).  They believed that a rejection of and detachment from all they knew would give them untainted space for true originality. Yet one might posit that those intellectuals (particularly, the French) got it all wrong.  True originality (if it exists) and cultural progress stems from familiarity with history—you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
Learning about my great-grandfather’s commitment to Korean independence from Japanese occupation offers dimension and depth to my own life ambitions. It brings perspective as to why I’m inexplicably interested and drawn to public policy issues even when my siblings are not.  Meanwhile, goals that seem untenable, if not absurd, are no longer so implausible when you learn that the childhood home of your grandmother (the one who washes the dishes in the dishwasher because they aren’t clean enough) housed the Korean government at one point.
The generations that have come before are not participants in a distant past that have nothing to do with us.  In fact, they have everything to do with our identity and our trajectory.  In a culture that fixates on youth through babies on Facebook (see “Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children” below) or Botox, we can’t keep trying to stop time from passing—or we really won’t get anywhere.  The past is our launching pad.  It grounds us in morality and discipline but also pushes us to do greater things than accomplished before.

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.

What Kind of Man Do You Want?

children, culture, family, feminism, marriage, men, social institutions, women 2 comments
By Sharon Barrett, Intern
It’s an eternal question: What do women want?
Last week, I came across this blog post on manhoodthat offered a partial answer:
Men in American society seem to fluctuate between two extremes….It seems barbarians [à la Han Solo of Star Wars, or Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance] are the kind of men women fall for from a distance, and then despise when they get close – the “bad boy” image. Wimps [like tenderfoot Ranse Stoddard, opposing Doniphon’s gun-slinging version of justice] seem to be the kind of men women despise from a distance and then get to know and start to care for as good provider, “beta males.”

But neither barbarians nor wimps are fully men.

What barbarian and wimp alike are lacking, the writer argues, is balance: an Aristotelian “golden mean” between tough and tender. Where one man excels in physique, business savvy, or rugged individualism, another may have aesthetic sense, intelligence, or a reputation for being “good with kids.” By implication, the man who balances these traits not only will achieve manliness in the eyes of other men, but will increase his attractiveness to women.
Can a “golden mean” between barbarian and wimp give women what they want? Yes – with this addition. Manhood is more than a middle way that combines ruggedness and gentleness for the sake of balance; it is a third way that employs a man’s abilities in the pursuit of a goal outside himself. Masculine strength is best defined in one word: commitment, the decision to give one’s word to another and stand by for the long haul. Men who embody commitment to a wife, family, job, and community are the ones who can reverse the current trend of fatherless families, broken marriages, and child poverty.
Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has taught women they don’t need this kind of man. In the words of feminist writer Hanna Rosin (author of The End of Men), “Women no longer need men for financial security and social influence. They can achieve those things by themselves.” (Nor do they need a man for help in raising children, since full-time daycare is only a phone call away. With the advent of Artificial Reproductive Technology, they no longer even need a man – other than a sperm donor – to conceive children.)
According to Ms. Rosin, the sexual revolution gave us “the ability to have temporary, intimate relationships that don’t derail a career.” Because career is (in her estimation) most important to women in their 20s and 30s, she continues,
No one is in a hurry to get married, and sex is, by the terms of sexual economics, very cheap. When sex is cheap, more men turn into what the sociologist Mark Regnerus calls “free agents.” They sleep with as many women as possible basically, [sic] because they can.
Men don’t need to strive for a “golden mean” when women pursue them for short-term pleasure without asking for commitment. Women perpetuate the hookup culture by allowing men to expect to take any woman to bed, no strings attached, as long they take her out for “a nice time” first (as Maria Reig Teetor reported last week). Women may suffer emotional pangs, but men are taking the real hit: since the 1960s, a “persistent ‘gap’” in employment has existed between married and unmarried men. Employment rates for single, divorced, and cohabiting men consistently plummet faster than rates for married men – in or out of a recession. A culture of marriage, on the other hand, by demanding commitment, actually makes men more employable.
When sex is cheap, commitment has no value whatsoever. When women live as if they don’t need men, real men disappear. And the economy and the family suffer equally.
In the end, women’s expectations set the bar for manhood. The question is still before us: Women, what kind of man do you want? The men are waiting for your answer.

Concentration Can

children, injustice, pro-life, reproductive technology No comments

Amanda Brennan, Intern
For many couples today, having children has become an ART, or an act of Artificial Reproductive Technology. This method, which contributes to more than 1 percent of all infant births, involves the combining of egg and sperm outside the body through various procedures. In most cases a woman’s eggs are retrieved surgically after superovulation, and a man’s sperm is collected via masturbation or a medical procedure. The two are then combined in a petri dish to form new life. From this moment on, the fate of the embryos is unclear. The couple has several options: implant into the biological mother, implant into a surrogate, donate to another couple, dispose of, donate to research, or freeze.
Cryopreservation, or the freezing of excess embryos, is a common practice at virtually all of the 443 identified fertility clinics throughout the United States. Presently, it is believed that over 400,000 human lives are suspended in “concentration cans” of liquid nitrogen. In all the hype of solving infertility and creating genetically enhanced children, life is being destroyed (an estimated 6½ embryos are lost for every live birth in IVF) and embryos are being imprisoned in a “man-made limbo.” The evils of concentration camps went unnoticed until after the damage was done in WWII, and the same may be true for the injustice of cryopreservationthat is occurring throughout the world today. The question of what to do with embryos that are abandoned or unwanted has gone unanswered in the U.S., but in some European countries those unclaimed embryos are often cleaned out and destroyed to make room for newer ones coming in. Little thought has been given to the consequences of ART methods on future society as a whole, most importantly on the family.
Through procedures such as IVF the fundamental norm of creation is manipulated. No longer do people beget children, instead they manufacture them, casting the sexual act between a man and a woman aside. The separation between procreative and recreational sex continues. As ART procedures grow in popularity more and more children will be detached from their biological parents. Originally, only homologous artificial fertilization was practiced, but now heterologous artificial fertilization is acceptable. This opens the door for single parenthood, homosexual parenthood, etc., in the meantime gradually devaluing the institution of marriage. For instance, a child could be created from the egg and sperm of two strangers, gestated by another woman, and then raised by two completely different people. Up to five individuals can contribute to the creation and upbringing of a child, not to mention the third-party intervention of scientists and medical professionals throughout the process. As MARRI research points out, children thrive when they grow up in an intact married family. In 2009, 45.8 percent of children experienced family intactness. Some ART procedures provide a child with a stable home between a married man and woman, but many others provide the opportunity to redefine marriage and childbearing unlike ever before. 
As science continues to progress, we must not forget the famous words of Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small” (Horton Hears a Who). Humans must evaluate the repercussions of their actions before creating injustices such as frozen embryos. There are ways to treat infertility that respect the dignity of the human person, that value life at even its smallest stages, and that safeguard marriage and the sexual act. It must not be forgotten that children have a fundamental, inalienable right to be born and raised in an intact family, not stored in a refrigerator.