A Paper by Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., Head Research Institute, Concerned Women for America, delivered at the 10th Rhodes Forum
Culture and public opinion are shaped by unfounded pronouncements by the media, not by the reams of social science research that confirms: Marriage is best for individuals (men, women and children) and society.
Let me begin by telling you about an encounter that I had on a flight several years ago. My seatmate was a young man that I will call Jason. I was surprised when Jason initiated conversation as I settled in to read on the short flight between DC and Boston, but Jason needed to talk. When he learned that I did research relating to marriage and family matters, He related how devastated he was that his sister recently divorced her husband. He revealed that his parents had been divorced long ago, but that he had thought his sister’s marriage was going to last. As a result of the breakup of her marriage, he said, “I don’t believe in love anymore.” He added, “I’m never getting married.” My heart ached for this young man.
Jason is not alone. The young adults in his generation have seen too much divorce and too many miserably unhappy marriages. Dr. Neil Clark Warren (founder of E-Harmony, an internet matchmaking service) interviewed 500 young adults and asked them, “What marriages do you most admire?” Surprisingly and sadly, nearly half of those young adults could not identify a single happy marriage from among their family, friends, and acquaintances.
In addition to the conflict and pain they have seen personally in their own families, these young adults have been relentlessly bombarded with negative cultural messages in mass media about love and marriage.
- Marriage is outdated.
- Marriage squelches love and romance.
- Love does best without commitment.
- Marriage limits freedom, spontaneity and affection.
What is the result of 40 years of these negative messages?
- Marriage rates are now half of the 1969 levels in the United States.
- Fewer people are getting married both in the U.S. and in most of the western world.
- Couples are waiting longer to get married – now women marry at an average age of 26 and men at an average age of 28.
- Today’s divorce rate is 60 percent higher than it was in 1960.
There is a whirlpool of controversy and dispute around the world concerning both the role and significance of marriage. In 2009, Time magazine ran a cover story titled, “Does Marriage Matter?” They concluded, “There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery as the collapse of marriage.” A year later – 2010 – Newsweek magazine ran a cover story declaring, “The Death of Marriage.” They concluded, “Marriage is no longer desirable or necessary.”
As these cover stories illustrate: Culture and public opinion are shaped by unfounded pronouncements by the media, not by the reams of social science research that confirms: Marriage is best for individuals (men, women and children) and society.
In the more than two decades that I have been working in government and the not-for-profit sector in Washington, D. C., I have produced and analyzed data related to the well-being of families and children. I have been at the forefront of the so-called culture wars – where media, entertainment, the intellectual elite and Hollywood have overshadowed the ever growing body of research scientifically documenting what is best for the well-being of women, children, families, societies and nations. My years of studying demographic trends in my country and in other nations around the world convince me that the rejection of Judeo-Christian values and morality is at the root of broken relationships and cultural disintegration.
Throughout history, across civilizations and cultures, marriage and family have been the foundations of nations. It is very significant that all civilized societies have treated marriage as a special institution and favored contract. Marriage is – by its very origin and nature – a contract and covenant rooted in natural law. As Natalia Yakunina said at last year’s Moscow Demographic Summit, “The family has always been the foundation of the successful development of human societies, a link between generations maintaining spiritual and cultural traditions.”
Yet today, cultural elites in all the nations of the world think that they can overturn this history without consequences.
My remarks today focus on two major points:
1. Marriage is best for people – for men, women, and especially for children.
2. Marriage is best for people’s pocketbooks.
MAIN POINT #1 – Marriage is best for people.
Children: Marriage is best by far for children. I am intrigued by the logo for the American organization, Children’s Defense Fund. Their logo is a simple line drawing of a child alone in a small boat on vast and wide sea. Their use of this image is good PR because there is something about defenseless children that touches all but the hardest of hearts. But, the image by itself does not tell us anything about why the child is alone. The facts are that today in America:
- 41 percent of US children are born without a father’s protection
- The absence of marriage leaves children vulnerable to specific and identifiable risks and predictable outcomes.
- The poverty rate in homes without a father is 5 times higher
- 2/3 of all poor children are in fatherless homes.
- There’s been an increase of 149 percent in child abuse and child exploitation since 1960
Marriage of parents is needed to form a family where children see day-by-day a solid moral foundation and value system. Marriage provides a training ground where children are taught both by precept and example ethics, morality, empathy and a host of other very necessary values, morals and principles that guide them through the rest of their lives. Note that it is not enough for these values, morals and principles to be stated; they must be modeled so that they are absorbed as well. It is not enough for children to hear, “Do as I say.” If children are to mature into individuals who respect others, who care for the needs of others, they must see this modeled by their parents love, commitment to and affection for each other, in their living out of those lifestyle behaviors and choices on a day-to-day basis. Children will, invariably, do as their parents and others “do.” If there is an inconsistency between what is “said” and what is actually “done” when children are watching, they will follow the example that they see rather than the words they hear.
The distinguished American jurist, Judge Robert Bork wrote a compelling book called, “A Nation’s Moral Life is the Foundation of its Culture.” Judge Bork explained that marriage is where values are inculcated – values like responsibility, caring, compassion, honesty, fairness, generosity, etc. In addition, social science research is very clear and unequivocal: A mom-and-dad natural family conveys educational and cultural advantages, as well as superior outcomes on every measurable variable, over ALL other household arrangements – by wide margins.
In 2010, the Children’s Society of Great Britain published the most comprehensive study of children’s well-being ever. The study authored by Richard Layard and Judy Dunn was titled, “A Good Childhood” and it’s very important and surprising findings produced a world-wide media firestorm. Three of the most provocative findings were:
- “Our children are desperate for love, for time, and affirmation of their fragile self-esteem and we substitute toys, TV and Facebook.”
- “Children are materially spoiled, but ignored – deprived of moral instruction and left without a spiritual foundation.”
- “Children should learn about the outside world from their parents, but now they learn through TV, Internet, video games, DVDs, cell phones and Ipads.
Adults: Marriage is best for adults – but, unlike the benefits for children that are the same for boys and girls, the benefits of marriage for adults are very gender-specific.
Let me just give you several examples for Women. Women are safer in marriage; women are 62 percent more likely to be abused by a live-in boyfriend than a husband. Married women are better off than their single counterparts in numerous ways, including financially, having better health, and experiencing greater well-being. Interestingly, married women sleep better and spend less time in the hospital.
The benefits of marriage for men can be identified very specifically as well. Married men are healthier and live longer. Married men have more stable employment and higher earnings; married men have greater wealth than single men. In fact – and this was a rather shocking finding to me –– marriage increases a man’s income as much as a college education. Not surprisingly, married men tend to avoid risky behavior more and – get this: contrary to what Hollywood movies portray – they have better and more frequent sex.
In short, a recent major report gave 4 priorities for a better world and better well-being for the world’s people. What was their number one recommendation? Reduce the number of unmarried adults.
MAIN POINT #2 – Marriage is best for People’s Pocketbooks
Economists have an interesting – and very revealing –– term: the “marriage premium.” They use that category to convey the financial benefits that accrue to married couples. Married baby boomers increase their wealth on average 16 percent a year – twice that of singles. The Pew Research Center recently published a study on the economics of marriage where they tried to explain why married couples prosper more financially than couples who are unmarried or who merely live together without marriage. They note the obvious fact that married couples share the major costs of human existence, such as housing and utilities expenses. But in addition to the fact that married couples earn more, what is perhaps most important is that they spend more wisely and invest better.
In short, marriage is more than an emotional relationship; it is an economic partnership and a social safety net. That benefit is, perhaps, seen most clearly by looking at the opposite side of the coin – looking at how the decline in marriage hits everyone’s pocketbook.
The facts are that the breakdown of marriage is a major factor driving most if not all the other social ills so prevalent and devastating in each of our nations. There is a clear and inextricable link between breakdown of marriage and the slowdown of economic growth due to the increasingly burdensome taxes required to finance the growing cost of the social safety nets. Economists and cultural analysts say that the financial costs of marital breakdown are incalculable. Just look at a few of the dimensions of family breakdown that affect the well-being of all of us – divorce, unwed childbearing, crime, drug abuse, school drop outs, domestic violence, child abuse, chronic illness, poverty, foster care, and on and on the list goes. All of these different factors generate costly outcomes that are associated with the decline of marriage and the breakdown of the family.
But the costs are not just financial; the costs in human capital are also exorbitant. Marriage is the social glue that binds people together. A healthy caring family is where dialogue and compromise are learned. Marriage and the family are so important in people’s financial, social and psychological well-being that Michael Novak, a well-known philosopher and theologian in America declared: “Family is the original U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
If there is any bright spot in the current cultural trends away from marriage and family, it is that in the widespread financial crisis gripping so many nations of the world, couples are finding ways to solve their problems instead of divorcing. In fact, four in ten Americans say that the financial recession has brought their family closer together.
In the 1930s there was a popular comic book character “Popeye the Sailor Man.” Even today, Popeye is still popular in cartoons on video and You Tube. The Popeye series contains numerous “Popeye Moments.” Those are the times when Popeye says, “I’ve had all I can stand. I can’t stands no more.” At that moment, Popeye eats some spinach, flexes his biceps, and goes to work to solve the problem.
I believe that the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations stands at a “Popeye Moment.” Yet, many people across our various nations remain oblivious to and unconcerned with the trends that are devastating families, societies and cultures. We are here this week to set off alarms – to say that the world cannot stand any more. As the Rhodes Forum founder and president, the Honorable Mr. Yakunin said so memorably at the opening ceremony: “Civilizations today face barbaric geopolitical trends that threaten the world’s cultural domains.”
We are gathered here at Rhodes to figuratively “eat spinach” and “flex our biceps” as we work together across our various cultural differences to create a world where positive messages about the value of families prevails over the barbaric trends that Mr. Yakunin so realistically noted. We must demonstrate for young people the power of dialogue and teach them the tools they need to build strong marriages and families. In this way we can effectively “go to work” to combat the negative myths about marriage so prevalent in the mass media.
If we fail at this task – if we do not reach the culture in a transformational manner – we will not have a revitalizing impact on the next generation of world leaders.
Worst yet, we will not see the kind of future that we all envision for our individual homelands and the world.
Thank you for listening and accepting the challenges we face.