Nov. 23, 2011
Importance of Family Belonging
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.
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
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
“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
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%
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.