July 1, 2014
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.
May 19, 2014
Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Christianity gave the world a social order that was based on monogamy, the fruit of Christ’s teachings on marriage, divorce, adultery and fornication. He raised the bar higher than any prophet or moralist ever had. It was a tough standard and even his closest followers balked when they realized the implications: “In that case it is better that a man not marry.” (Mt. 19:10).
But Christ knew what was possible to those who embraced His way, and gradually, as Christianity spread and as Western Civilization was formed stable monogamous marriage became more and more the norm. The different Christian nations and cultures had different ways of protecting the chastity of their youth, especially that of their young women: think of Spanish chaperoning. Virginity until marriage and monogamous, stable marriage definitely became very common, and the rare event was the total breakdown of a marriage. America today is very different. Fifty four percent of our seventeen year olds have parent who have split. We have become a culture of rejection between the two sexes.
May 15, 2014
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.
April 25, 2014
By: Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern
The “2014 State of Dating in America” study, conducted by ChristianMingle and JDate, examines the dating behavior of Christian young adults. The study’s most ominous finding is the rapidly growing Christian acceptance of sex outside of marriage. When asked if they would have sex before marriage, 63% of Christian young adults answered yes, and only 13% said no. When asked how far into the relationship it was acceptable for the couple to move in together, 27% said after six months of dating, 30% said after a year of dating, and only 13% said it was only acceptable after marriage.
This data does not describe the US population at large—this is the state of things within Christendom (or at least the Christendom according to Christian Mingle and JDate). With thoughts like this harbored in Christian minds throughout our land, it makes sense that marriage is falling apart in our country, divorce rates are remarkably high, and the definition of sexuality is in perpetual flux. Such research should shock and disturb Christians—the church, after all, ought to be the solution, not the problem. Our biblical roadmap shows us the way to joyously hold out the single answer to how things work. Shouts of solutions, remedies and programs reverberate through our social conversation, but evidence of their success is grim. As Christians leave the voice of true reason (divine design), they will enter the age of parenting in the midst of moral and ideological chaos. What follows is that our next generation of children will be raised outside God’s paradigm—they will be the first generation, in theory, to have no background of stability. The current generation is rebelling against a standard they despise—the next generation won’t be rebels so much as followers of the new social norm.
How can we Christians who hope for cultural redemption fight chaotic societal trends when 63% of our own are captivated by the same trends? Christian leaders are frustrated, saddened, even angered, by the socio-sexual battle cries thundering against any righteous standard they uphold. The homosexual marriage movement is gaining ground, more children are born out of wedlock, and cohabitation is increasing — all working to undermine the bedrock of society, the family. We as Christians expect the unbelieving world to choose its own paths, to stray from God’s design. Throughout the ages, in varied cultural contexts, societies have turned towards sexual disobedience (among other kinds)—and, one by one, have fallen from splendor. We also know that God’s call to His own people is to turn from sexual immorality, to be set apart, and, most shiver-inducing of all: Be holy, for I am Holy. We adhere to His design for the sexual out of obedience to the Creator of sexuality. We adhere because…it works. Simply put, His design makes sense. He created sexuality, and therefore His way works.
And yet even self-proclaimed followers of God are so blind in the sexual arena. Society’s proposed sexual system only leads to chaos—first within family relationships, leading to breakdowns in the other key institutions. In what other context does society so energetically encourage actions that blatantly do not work? The family (and how sexuality is conducted within this framework) is the root of a functioning society, the stream feeding the tree that grows the branches of government, of economy, of education, etc. The United States will struggle to maintain any coherent identity or global presence if we continue on this road.
The people of God have always been the symbol of hope. In theory, we know what it is that works. This is where we mourn the most tragic part of our national story—Christians are following the tide. Those entrusted with the beautiful knowledge of how to grow a thriving society are putting such wisdom aside and stepping into chaos with the rest.
Many think that people leave the Faith and then become sexually promiscuous. But as the State of Dating in America study showed, this is simply not the case. An increasing many are maintaining their Christian title while adopting the cultural standards of their choice. We should not simply force our adolescents to sit in church pews. We must teach children of relational beauty, young people of sexual wholeness. We must reach out to the young Christian adults facing a sexually chaotic culture, come beside them, and help them discover true sexual order. We must seek to restore faithful zeal, but also to restore sexual clarity and obedience. We must, with care, ask sexuality and religion to lead each other hand-in-hand away from the pit that consumes them. Only then, when our own Christian culture has changed and sex is honored among us, can we have a hope at all of changing the secular culture and thus offering our nation a happy end.
April 4, 2014
By Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern
Patton argues that colleges harbor a great number of smart men, one only grows older after college, and it is generally a virtue for women to marry young. McGuire disagrees with Patton and uses data collected by The National Marriage Project’s “Knot Yet” Report to prove her point that women should wait until their late 20s and early 30s to get married, because the lower the age at marriage, the higher the risk of divorce.
The research does indeed show that women who get married before the age of 20 face a proposed divorce rate of 52 percent. It drops to 34 percent for women who get married between the ages of 20-23, and even lower to 14 percent for women ages 24-26. Women who get married between the ages of 27-29 have a 20 percent chance of divorce and women who are 30 years or older only have an 8 percent chance of divorce. Just looking at these percentages, one would agree that women should wait until they are approaching 30 to find a life partner.
However when one looks at the level of happiness within marriage another dimension comes forth:
The risk of divorce and the risk of unhappiness may not follow the same trajectory, according to the Knot Yet Report. Of women who marry before the age of 20, only 31 percent say they are very happily married. Forty-six percent of women married between the ages of 20-23 report that they are very happily married, and 49 percent of women married between the ages of 27-29 report the same. Forty-two percent of women who marry at 30 or older report being very happily married. But, remarkably, a significantly higher 66 percent of women who marry between the ages of 24-26 report that they are very happily married. No other age group even breaks 50 percent in the very happily married category.
So how are we to make sense of this data?
Looking at the divorce risk alone gives us the benefit of objective concrete reality. Happiness on the other hand is a subjective and fluid measure.
The benefit of younger marriage is that the couple can mold their characters together rather than individually, while they are still young and flexible. If they work at it, their virtues develop alongside each other and they learn to be more harmonious as they face the formative twenties with each other.
Many questions are left unasked in the Knot Yet report:
How chaste are they (a virtue with a big impact on marital stability); what are their intentions on children (are they family focused or self-focused as they go into marriage)? What is their education attainment and GPA? Hard work is a good indication of responsibility and dedication — qualities needed for a successful marriage.
Developing norms for marriage in our new mobile age is a much needed discourse and both McGuire and Patton contribute to the discussion. The data give us clues to behavior and behavior gives us clues to habits and virtue, but the data is still a fair distance removed from this last point: character. When a young man of great character marries a young woman of great character and they are both working on developing the necessary virtues (good habits) to make the other happy and to make family life better, then the chance of divorce is rather remote. Add in frequent prayer and worship (not addressed by the Knot Yet report) and divorce almost disappears. Add virginity at marriage and you have a totally different ball game. Add natural family planning rather than contraception and the game shifts even more. When were these the norms? What was marital stability like then? For those who choose to build a strong future (as opposed to pining for a distant past) the norms are the same.
Those who marry young will indeed face many hardships as the pieces of their lives continue to come together during their twenties, so the divorce risk makes sense. However, our goal is to encourage intact and happy-healthy marriage in our nation. Perhaps the answer is therefore to encourage young marriage…if four things are present:
1) Both man and woman are educated. Research shows the lower divorce risk for couples who have gone through the stabilizing and enriching experience of higher education (college degree).
2) Both man and woman have the virtue of chastity. Couples who are concerned with chastity—before and during marriage—tend to be dedicated to relational health, intactness, and service.
3) Both are people of regular prayer and worship.
4) The couple talks through, and agrees on, the functions of the five big tasks (institutions)—family, church, school, marketplace, and government. Marriage and parenting will be intertwined with these institutions, and conflict regarding them can quickly destabilize a marriage.
5) The man and woman come from healthy families. Such couples have working models for dealing with hardship and living for a greater good than self. If they don’t have such backgrounds, they must discuss the potential baggage and bad habits (of thought or feeling) that may encumber them.
If these five factors are in place, I suggest a couple should by all means marry young. Life is full of adversity—it is simply about which adversities to take on. The “adversity” of starting young is a natural good. If you have all these things going for you, then “Go for it”. Guys: she may be gone with someone else if you wait. Ladies: the same for you too. If a businessman comes across a really great deal does he wait? The great deal here is character. Does he have it? Does she?
March 27, 2014
By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
On March 14, Rasmussen gave us very bad news that no one has picked up on. It published results from its poll which asked American adults a fundamental question: how important is it for children to grow up in a home with both of their parents – Very important; Somewhat important; Not very important; or Not at all important? Sixty-two percent of respondents ranked it Very Important. This data may seem encouraging considering the socio-political warzone we occupy in the United States. However, the responses are startling when compared to those from June 2010. Four years ago, the same question produced 80% of Very Important responses, a markedly higher percentage. An almost 20 percent drop is a massive drop in this short period.
We expect opinions and beliefs to morph and shift as time progresses—America is certainly in a state of flux in the 21st century. Assuming the data is correct (but it needs to be replicated to be sure), such drastic change rings alarm bells for children and the nation. It means more adults think that children don’t need what is basic justice—the care of both their parents who brought them into existence. We already have a big national problem when most of our children grow up in their home without both parents. We have an even bigger problem if more adults begin to think this is OK.
There is no greater indicator of a culture in decline than more and more parents being unwilling to raise the children they brought into existence…the future of the nation. This is a downward trajectory if ever there was one.
Common sense is clear: children thrive on love and commitment. Family and marriage intactness is the great demonstration of love and commitment. Some say: “But I have fallen out of love. I need to move on.” Balderdash. I say: “You have just arrived at the point of real love. Push through this malaise. Where there is no felt love, give love and you will find it again.” Love is giving, not getting. And no parent has the right, before God or before man, to leave his or her children. Each child has the obvious, fundamental right to the love and attention of both his parents, of both his parents together. Without “together-love” that child will not reach his or her potential. And as we have demonstrated from recent federal data and as common sense tells us, it is the most important factor in achieving the personal and social well-being that we claim to want in the United States, and on which we spend billions annually.
A nation that gives up on its children is not fit to be a leader among nations. How can any outside nation look at such a country and call it great? If it has gone so soft that it cannot even “put out” for its children, do you think they expect us to “put out” for them? I suspect that we as a nation have lost confidence in ourselves. We know we are not worthy because we have given up on our children and that feeling became palpable when the majority of our children were no longer raised by both their parents.
Here is a question for millennials, the “present future” of our country: “Are you willing to sacrifice your own comfort and happiness (should it come to that) for the children you will bring into existence?” If they overwhelmingly say “yes” and intend to stay together through thick and thin, “for better or for worse,” then the United States may be a great nation in a decade or two. But if they go the way we are drifting, then we can “Kiss America Goodbye,” excepting the hope of a real Fourth Awakening based on repentance for sins against our children.
Do you think the Taliban or Al Queda are afraid of folk who will give up on their children? Do you think Putin is? Do you think China is?
I hope Rasmussen polls our future parents to see if we are really going downwards or if there is better news on the horizon. For the children’s sake, let us hope so—and for the sake of freedom, not only across the world but even here at home.
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.
February 17, 2014
By: Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
It is natural to measure the success of agriculture as an industry by its harvest, but a farmer’s harvest is more of the result of good farming, rather than the source of it. In order to understand the cycle of growth and health upon which a farm’s prosperity relies, we must look first to how the farmer sows and even how he prepares to sow.
Just like the farmer, society must invest in its own future by ‘sowing seed.’ At MARRI we attempt to diligently demonstrate the need for people to take care of their future harvest—the health and even the very existence of the coming generations—by sowing and cultivating good seed in the present time.
When the families in our nation delay marriage and reduce the frequency of childbirth, and when communities and leaders are encouraging such behavior, we fail to lay the proper foundations for a successful harvest and a continuation of a healthy, robust society.
We see this happening in other nations—Greece, Italy, Spain, and Japan come to mind—where the decline of demographic health is linked to lessened fertility and marriage. These countries have seen their average family size shrink and their economies sputter for want of young families … the growers of the next crop, the next generation. As the family goes, so goes the economy. Unfortunately, we see evidence that our own nation is headed the same direction:
But the economy is not the only institution that suffers when the sowing (sexuality) goes wrong.
It is the task of MARRI to show the United States how intrinsically interconnected are our fundamental institutions of government, marketplace, education, and religion with what is the most fundamental institution of all—the family. We believe (and the data illustrates) that the thriving of the three “person-forming institutions”—the family, church and school—is key if the other two (marketplace and government) are to thrive and hold a sustainable and competitive role in the global arena.
So what is the ‘good seed’ we ought to sow? Philosophers through the ages have dealt with this question, most foundationally Plato and Aristotle. How are we to rightly prepare for a harvest of health and societal growth? The focus of this blog from here on will be to present the evidence from the social sciences that cast light on the road to strengths and weaknesses. In particular we will examine the sexual trends, for that is where it all starts (where people start and are brought into existence). Are they helping or hurting our families, thereby helping or hurting our basic institutions?
We will explore what has become our basic thesis—as all the data of the social sciences mount over the decades—that the main task of society, of individuals, of families, and of communities is to grow the young, intact, married family that worships God weekly. If that is done, all the problems of society diminish in size and intensity and all its strengths grow. It is a thesis that the social science data—but not too many social scientists—seem to uphold. Therein lies the future excitement of this blog: a good public discourse on the fundamentals, and on the predictions and cautions to which the data point.