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Nov. 23, 2011

Importance of Family Belonging

By Mike McManus

            America is considered a “Christian nation.”  Gallup Polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans are members of a church, and 43% attended church in any week of 2010.  But to what degree are American Christians living their faith?

            Jesus is quoted in three Gospels on marriage: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Yet just since 1970, 46 million American couples have divorced, shattering lives of their 44 million children.

            Census reports 41% of U.S. babies are born out of wedlock vs. only 2% in Japan.  Which nation is living Paul’s admonition to “Avoid fornication”(I Cor. 7:2)?

            What is the consequence?

            On international math comparisons American kids score 487 vs. 560-600 by Asian kids.  Why? TIME doesn’t say, but Asian families are largely intact while American families are mostly broken.

            Only 46% of American children who reach the age of 17 are living with both of their biological parents, according to a new study by the Family Research Council’s Marriage & Religion Research Institute (MARRI).

            MARRI’s “Index of Family Belonging” varies significantly by state.  In Minnesota and Utah 57% of teens are living with their married parents.  Compare that with only 34% of  Mississippi teens and a dismal 19% in Washington DC. 

            American Asian parents are most likely to grow up in intact homes – 66%, and 54% of those with white parents.  By contrast, only 41% of Hispanics and 17% of Black children are so fortunate. 

            Interestingly, however, the MARRI report says there is a “non-significance of race in determining states’ performance” in terms of reading scores, high school graduations, poverty or births to unmarried teenagers.

            “Marriage is so low among blacks, that statistically, when you control for marriage, the race issue disappears,” says Pat Fagan, director of MARRI, and primary author of the report.

            What matters is not race or poverty, but marriage.

            For example, only 6% of Minnesota births are to unmarried teens because it has the highest “Family Belonging” rate with the most married parents (57%) of any state. “As one journeys down the Mississippi River across four states that have fewer and fewer stable families, the proportion of births to unmarried teenagers more than doubles,” to 11% in Tennessee (where only 40% live in homes with married parents) and 14% of teen births in Mississippi, where only a third are from intact homes.

            Similarly, child poverty in Mississippi is double that of Minnesota – 31% vs.  14%.

            The same pattern can be seen in the West.  Utah’s high Family Belonging rate of 57% is almost double nearby New Mexico’s 37%, and Utah’s high school graduation rate is 74% vs. only 67% in New Mexico.

            What can be done to change these trends?

The Bush Administration hoped that by spending more to educate those with lower skills, in the “No Child Left Behind” initiative – children could catch up.  This report reveals how hopeless that strategy is. Utah spends only $4,000 per pupil to get three-fourths of its high school students to graduate vs. $12,000 in New York to get the same result or $9,000 per capita in Washington to achieve a 55% graduation rate.

What matters is not money but marriage.

However, what does MARRI’s Second Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection suggest as a remedy?  Educate young people about the importance of marriage so that fewer have children “outside of marriage.” A good idea, if the kids will listen.

There are better answers.  A dozen states are considering a Parental Divorce Reduction Act that would make three changes in state law that could cut divorce rates in half.

First, if a parent wants a divorce, both Mom and Dad would have to take a course on the impact of divorce on children – before the divorce is even filed. Hopefully, that would persuade many to improve their marriage instead. Second, they’ have to wait a year before the divorce is granted, now required by only a few states whose divorce rates are much lower than 25 states with NO waiting period or only 20-60 days. A year allows time for reconciliation.  Finally, divorcing parents would have to take classes to improve their communication skills.

What if a new President encourages cohabiting parents to marry?  Most unwed births are to cohabiting parents.  Yet government gives the mother income subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc. – as if she were single.  If she marries, she loses benefits.

The President could say, “If you marry we will not cut benefits for two years.”

Many would marry, and their kids would have a better future.

People of faith ought to fight for such reforms. 


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