inequality

inequality

The Marriage Divide

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Forget class and race; the real cultural divide lies in marriage.

Increasingly, those who marry are among the best educated, the wealthiest, the healthiest, and the most religious in society. Marriage fosters economic security and educational attainment (two key determinants of social class), and prepares children for their future romantic relationships. Marriage is also a good attainable by people of all races, social classes, and religious creeds. It seems odd, then, that such an accessible and stable institution could possibly give rise to inequality.

The problem is, marriage and sexual mores are idealized and pursued disproportionately in society. In his 2012 book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray concludes that upper-class whites have held steadfast to America’s founding virtues while middle-class and poor whites have largely abandoned these core principles. Because individuals tend to self-select communities and relationships with like-minded people, the sociocultural divide between those who marry and those who do not has compounded with each new generation. 

Recently released publications from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), “The Index of Belonging and Rejection” and “The State of the Black Family,” confirms that Murray’s thesis applies to the black community as well. There are two phenomena at work: the adversities of broken, non-married families are  exacerbated with each  generation, and the gap between the married and  the non-married increases in education, wealth, health, and religion. The marriage divide is particularly big in the black community because marriage has been retained and celebrated by its most educated and avoided by its least educated—a trend that has grown worse over the decades. Between 1950 and 2012, the fraction of black 15 to 17 year olds raised in by their always-married parents dropped from 38 percent to 17 percent.  Even more alarming, between 1950 and 2012 the number of black two year olds with always-married parents was cut in half (from 62 percent to 30 percent). In laymen’s terms, only 30 percent of black children begin their life with their married parents; only 30 percent of young black children experience the security and belonging of an intact family, while 70 percent experience their parents rejection of each other, which leads to the brokenness of a non-intact family.

MARRI research also shows that those in intact families outperform their counterparts on social outcome measures. For both black men and women aged 35-40, the highest fraction of professional graduates were raised by married parents, whereas the highest number of high school drop-outs were raised by an always-single parent. Black men, women, teenagers, and children who were raised in always-single households had the highest rate of poverty of all family structures. Always single black men and women, as well as children raised by such parents, receive the greatest proportion of government aid, including: SSI, SSDI, TANF, Welfare, and Food Stamps.

Increasing marriage across all social strata is a prerequisite for reducing poverty and inequality in America.

The Black Family: America’s Opportunity

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“America is free to choose whether the Negro shall remain her liability or become her opportunity.” –Gunnar Myrda, An American Dilemma (1944)

Exactly fifty years ago Daniel Patrick Moynihan published his prophetic report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” In 1965 when the report was written, Moynihan warned that the black family was in crisis: 23.6 percent of blacks were born illegitimately (1963), 21 percent of non-white families had female heads-of-household, and only a minority of black children reached age 18 having always lived with their married parents. But the state of the black family in America today surpasses Moynihan’s worst fears: 72.2 percent of blacks are born out-of-wedlock, 50 percent of black children live with their mother only, and only 17 percent of black children reach adulthood having always lived with married parents.

The racial dynamic of America in 2012 is now most complex. One Civil War, three Constitutional Amendments, hundreds of legislative/ juridical decisions, and thousands of protests later, and African Americans still rate disproportionately low on a number of social outcome measures.

Unable to explain this phenomenon otherwise, many have blamed a covert but pervasive racism in America. Although this may be true for some perverted individuals, it is not the case of the majority of Americans. There is a different and powerful culprit at work.    

By common sense the straightforward way to eliminate an adverse outcome is to mitigate its cause; otherwise, one is only providing temporary treatment rather than a permanent solution. Black social ills have been temporarily treated rather than permanently resolved. During the horrible days of the slave trade, black families were ripped apart—fathers were taken from their children, and wives were left to run households. Blacks still do not have informal equality of opportunity because the broken black family—the real root problem of their social ills—has yet to heal. Relief programs like affirmative action are insufficient solutions because blacks are neither less intelligent nor less capable of working than whites, Hispanics, Asians, or any other race. Rather, many black children are never given the opportunity to fully harness their potential because they suffer the rejection of a broken family and its attendant misfortunates. The real relief the black community needs is an immediate and radical resurgence of intact marriage and all that is necessary to achieve that.

The importance of family structure is underlined in two recent publications released by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI): “The State of the Black Family in America” and “The Index of Belonging and Rejection.” For both black men and women (aged 35 to 40), the highest number of high school drop-outs were always-single, while the highest number of professional graduates were married. Black men, women, teenagers, and children who were raised in always-single households had the highest rate of poverty of all family structures. Correspondingly, 61 percent of black females and 51 percent of black males receiving TANF or welfare are in always-single families, and 49 percent of black children whose household receives food stamps were being raised by an always-single parent. Currently, only 17 percent of black 15- to 17-year-olds on the cusp of adulthood have been raised by always-married-parents since birth.

The state of the African American family explains why racial gaps have, in a sense, widened even though formal discrimination has ended. The government depends on the intact family to achieve its goals, but the intact black family is close to absent, except among highly educated blacks. According to the Fifth Annual Index of Belonging, the number of black teens (15- to 17-years-old) that grew up in intact families dropped from 38 percent in 1950 to 17 percent in 2012. In other words, 21 percent fewer teens have the security of a stable, intact family.

Given this disintegration of the black family, it is no wonder that blacks rank disproportionately low on a number of “ordinary good-life” outcomes. The pernicious effects of family rejection have been compounded across generations and seep into the wider community and its ethos. Children of broken families are more likely to pass their problems on to their own children, and, overtime these adverse outcomes spill over into society at large.

Despite the failure of social policy, there is a solution to this vicious cycle: the Black Church. African Americans are among the most frequent church-goers. Recently, however, many churches have become lackadaisical in promulgating Christ’s teachings on chastity and marriage. Social policy has proven useless in correcting the ills of family rejection and brokenness, but the Church certainly can if it has the will. A deep conversion and close following of Christ and His teaching on purity, family values, brotherly love, and communal service are the key ingredients to raising the black family to its rightful integrity. In turn, the black community can then hold the rest of America to this new standard. This is the exemplary role of the black community, and the leadership opportunity that beckons the Black Church.


How the Breakdown of the American Family Fosters Racial Inequalities

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In the 1960s radical groups, including many feminists, conspired to tear down the traditional, married family; little did they know they were simultaneously igniting some of the worst racial divisions America could imagine.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau on living arrangements analyzed by Nicholas Zill, 58 percent of U.S. children live with their married birth parents, followed by 23 percent that live with their birth mother (only), 5 percent that live with a birth parent and stepparent, 4 percent that live with cohabiting birth parents, and 4 percent that live with their birth father (only). Radical groups are slowly, but surely, falsely positioning marriage as a patriarchal ritual of the past.

Despite how passionately radicals argue that mothers do not need husbands or that romantic partners are fine cohabiting, marriage remains an indispensable institution that holds together the social fabric of our nation. Unfortunately, however, this fabric is fraying disproportionately across the races, as Zill illustrates.

According to the 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, 80 percent of Asian children live with their married birth parents, followed by 68 percent of White children and 52 percent of Hispanic children. Only 29 percent of Black children lived with their married birth parents in 2014. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 50 percent of Black children lived with their birth mother (only), followed by 27 percent of Hispanic children, 15 percent of White children, and 9 percent of Asian children.

The large variation in living arrangements across the four major race/ ethnic groups has deep-seated and far-reaching consequences on racial gaps. To begin, family structure is closely related to government dependence—roughly three quarters of welfare assistance goes to single-parent families. Family structure is also associated with educational achievement, the gateway to future economic success. Four times as many individuals who came from intact, married families received a Bachelor’s degree than individuals who came from always-single parent families. Those in single-parent families are more likely to engage in risk behavior, commit criminal acts, drink, and use drugs.

Because there is such a clear-cut difference in the living arrangements of the races, social outcomes are quite easily predictable across these four groups. While Asian families are able to exercise individual agency in flourishing environments, many Black families tend to be at the mercy of the government in dangerous environments. While most Asian parents begin their child’s life by developing and cultivating their talents, many Black parents spend their children’s early years struggling to make ends meet.

There certainly is an unjust inequality among the races, but it is not the inequality of outcome that most media outlets discuss. Rather, it is an inequality of opportunity, even a lost opportunity, for many children to experience the irreplaceable married love of their mother and father.

Abandoning Monogamy, the Certain Road to Inequality

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The natural order of sexual relationships is ingrained in the very creation of the world: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him’…For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2: 18 & 24).” 

From the moment of creation, man and woman shared an inimitable complementarity—man was created for woman, woman was created for man. Sexual monogamy was the pre-ordained moral standard. However, man and woman transgressed this norm and initiated a culture of polyamory (having more than one romantic relationship simultaneously). In his presentation at the International Interreligious Colloquium of the Complementarity of Man and Woman hosted by Pope Francis, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained how this deviation gave rise to societies clad in inequality. “Polygamy,” he said, “is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males will never have the opportunity to have a wife and child.” In a polygamous society wealthier and more prominent men will accrue the majority of eligible women, thereby denying those of lower status to the fundamental right to an intact family. Because marriage is scientifically linked to better educational, economic, behavioral, and health outcomes, sexual mores that allow the rich to marry at the expense of the poor will exacerbate social inequalities.

Some have argued that the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament implicitly supports polygamous relationships by praising men like Abraham and Jacob who had multiple wives. However, Rabbi Sacks pointed out that overt tensions between Sarah and Hager or Leah and Rachel instead teach the destructiveness of polygamy rather than condone it. This is further proven by the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [singular]” (Exodus 20:17). Notably, polygamy is never once explicitly approved of in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates God’s moral mandate: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (Matthew 19: 4-6).

Today, serial polyamory is on the rise, and many sexual partners have jettisoned the idea of marriage altogether. As Rabbi Sacks predicted, this has yielded great social inequalities. In 2012, the poorly and moderately educated were 35 percent less likely to be married than the college educated. In 2011, roughly three fourths of federal and state welfare assistance went to single parent families, most of which were led by women who gave birth out of wedlock. Neighborhoods with more single parents, an indicator of sexual non-monogamy, tend to have higher crime rates and more problematic behavior among children.

Sexual monogamy also provides a number of benefits in addition to the social ills it prevents. “[The family] is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love,” said Rabbi Sacks. Beauty and life do not exist in any one entity in itself, but rather in the unity. By uniting man and woman into a lifelong marriage, the pre-ordained institution for the sexual act, the two complementary halves unite into one and better reflect the complete nature of God the Father.

Non-monogamous relationships vitiate God’s perfect order with structural injustices—they victimize innocent members within the family and impose disorder on society. If left as is, families not built on monogamy will accelerate America’s road to serfdom.