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.
March 12, 2014
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.
March 6, 2014
By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
Jonathan Vespa’s study, “Historical Trends in the Marital Intentions of One-Time and Serial Cohabitors,” just published in February’s Journal of Marriage and Family, confirms what many sense: that among current child-bearing aged women attitudes towards marriage have shifted downwards, mainly through the influence of cohabitation, which is increasingly serial.
Vespa finds two compounding associations within present cohabitation trends.
- The downward trend in marital intentions holds steady and is significant even when controlling for serial cohabitation.
- There is an additional negative association between serial cohabitation and decreased marital intentions. Serial cohabitants (a rising percentage of ever-cohabited women) are less likely to enter a cohabiting relationship with plans to marry (to varying degrees, dependent on whether it is the first, second, or third union) than are one-time cohabitants.
In short, a woman in today’s world entering a cohabiting relationship is less likely to have marital intent, and she is even still more less-likely to have marital intent if she is a serial cohabitant.
Cohabitation used to be an intentional (though relatively uncommon) stepping stone to marriage for women who engaged in it but that switched with women who were born between 1963 and 1967, and the pattern has continued unwaveringly since then.
Bottom line: There is more of a disconnect between sexual intercourse, cohabitation and marriage. Cohabitation is increasingly accepted as an independent entity, and choosing it has nothing to do with expecting marriage or choosing marriage.
Vespa’s study reveals that compared to women in the youngest cohort (born between 1978 and 1982), women in the oldest cohort (born between 1958 and 1962) had odds of having marital intentions that were 1.40 times higher. Such data suggests that America’s cultural assumption that marriage is sexuality’s end goal is dwindling more and more.
This obviously threatens the health (and rate) of marriage and the institution of the family’s person-forming power. As serial cohabitation rises, marital intentions decrease, and the two compound to push marriage even further into the recesses of the American mind, the stable familial space in which children have been consistently and healthily formed for generations will continue to weaken and with it the future America will be similarly weakened. As we are seeing (and as, I predict, we will continue to see), what plagues the family plagues the other foundational social institutions of Church, School, Marketplace, and Government. As marriage becomes more of a mental side note to our sexual practices, relational instability will continue to increase first in the family, followed later by relational instability in the other institutions (as the child grows into them as an adult).
Vespa isolated the increasing disconnect between sexual union and marriage. The country has yet to feel anxious about its effects on the children, their education, the economy and the capacity of our country to govern itself.
March 4, 2014
By: Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern
February 7, 2014
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.
January 28, 2014
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.
September 16, 2013
By MARRI Intern
September 13, 2013
By Danielle Lee, MARRI Intern
September 11, 2013
September 11, 2013