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Ethics & Religion
August 10, 2016
Column #1,824
Children Are Hurt by Marriage Failure
By Mike McManus


We all know that half of America's marriages fail - and have for decades. What's less well known is that America's marriage rate has plunged in half and unwed births soared 8-fold.

Who is most wounded by divorce and non-marriage? Children - innocent victims of their parents' selfishness. Only 46% of American kids are being raised by their married parents, reports Patrick Fagan of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI).

More than half of America's kids are hurt and confused by their own parents! They give children the one event that is disastrously life-changing.

This is not news. According to an eight decade study begun in 1921 by Dr. Lewis Terman, children of divorced parents are 44% more apt to die early, a lifespan shortened by an average of 4.5 years.

Terman said parental divorce - not parental death - is the risk. "In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future."

For example, children of divorce are more likely to contract cancer of the digestive tract, pancreas, lungs and cervix - than children reared by their married parents.

In addition, children from divorced families have more emotional and behavioral problems, negative feelings and less psychological well-being than those from intact families. Upon the divorce of their parents, children experience a wide range of emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, loneliness and depression (which frequently lasts into adulthood), heightened anxiety, worry, lower life satisfaction, lower self-esteem and self-confidence.

David Popenoe of the National Survey of Children reports that parental divorce sparks such mental health problems in their children as depression, withdrawal from friends and family, aggressive, impulsive or hyperactive behavior. They either behave disruptively or withdraw from participation in the classroom. They may also develop mood disorders, bipolar/disorder, mild chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

When children experience parental divorce before age five, they are particularly vulnerable to emotional conflicts when their parents separate, reports MARRI's Fagan. They will frequently cling to their parents and "regress" to bedwetting and other behaviors more characteristic of younger children.

Older children, rather than clinging, frequently withdraw from home life and seek intimacy elsewhere. If the divorce occurs while the children ate teenagers, they tend to react in one of two ways. Either they attempt to avoid growing up or to "speed through" adolescence. Early sexual activity, substance abuse or dependence, hostile behavior and depression are all more likely to occur after divorce.

One tragic result is the soaring percentage of children born to unmarried parents. The U.S. unwed birth rate was only 5% in 1960, but jumped 8-fold to 40%. That figure is 20 times the 2% unwed birth rate of Japan!

America's high unwed birth and divorce rate is having a devastating impact on the academic achievement of our kids. For example, Japanese children academically outperform U.S. kids. Compared to children from 31 countries on international math tests, U.S. kids scored at the bottom, 31st vs. 8th for Japan. Japanese kids were #3 in science vs. #24 for U.S. In reading, Japanese kids were third best, and Americans, 21st. Other Asian countries, with low unwed birth rates and divorces all scored as good as or better than Japan.

U.S. children of divorce and non-marriage are three times more likely to be expelled from school or to have a child as a teenager as are children from intact homes, are five times more apt to live in poverty, six times more likely to commit suicide and twelve times more likely to be incarcerated, reports a Heritage study by Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector.

However, statistics blur the eyes. Behind them are kids who are vulnerable and confused.

These tragic results should prompt America's pastors to make a new commitment to strengthening marriage. Marriages have plunged 57% since 1970. There were actually more marriages in 1970 than in 2015! If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970 - there'd be 1.3 million more marriages a year! Never-married Americans nearly quintupled from 8.7 million to 41.3 million.

These trends are not healthy for adults. Divorced men live 10 years less than married men, and divorced women, four years less. More importantly, non-marriage or divorce is devastating to America's children.

How can marriage be re-established? The nation's pastors, priests and rabbis should take on promoting of marriage as a high priority. America's faith leaders care about marriage, but have sat on the sidelines as God's first institution has deteriorated.

It's time for pastors to pastor.
Copyright (c) 2016 Michel J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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