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The Fallout of Weak Family Life

Meeting in Poland Highlights a Key Social Concern

By Father John Flynn

ROME, MAY 28, 2007 (Zenit) - More than 3,000 delegates from dozens of countries gathered May 11-13 in Warsaw, Poland, for the 4th meeting of the World Congress of Families. The WCF describes itself as an "international network of pro-family organizations, scholars, leaders and people of good will."

On the first day of proceedings, Roman Giertych, minister of education and deputy prime minister of Poland, told participants: "The family is life. Without the family, there is no state. There is no government. There is nothing."

The May 11 press release by conference organizers also reported similar comments made by a government representative from the United States, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and immigration. "As you know," she declared, "the family is the oldest human institution, the first and most enduring community of individuals working together for the common good."

During the following days the WCF examined topics ranging from the impact of the media on family life, to difficulties caused by pornography, to the challenge of contraception and euthanasia.

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, prepared a text for the meeting, which was read by Father Grzegorz Kaszak. "The vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman," the text affirmed.

Marriage in America

A useful overview of the ill effects that result when marriage and the family fail came in a book published late last year by Kay Hymowitz. In "Marriage and Caste in America," Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York, argued that marriage failures are exacerbating social differences.

A combination of divorce and out-of-wedlock births is producing a nation of separate and unequal families. These inequalities, Hymowitz warned, are putting at risk the future of large numbers of children who will start life with severe disadvantages.

The prevalence of single motherhood is especially high among poor women who have only a high-school education. The book cites studies showing that in the mid-20th century just about all women, regardless of educational level, married before becoming mothers. Divorce levels were also very low.

In the decades after the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, the incidence of both divorce and having children outside of marriage became much higher among women with lower educational levels, compared with their more highly qualified counterparts. By the turn of the century, only about 10% of mothers with a college degree or higher were living without husbands. For mothers with only nine to 14 years of education the level was 36%.

In 2004 the proportion of children born to single mothers reached 33% of all births. The vast majority of these children went home from the maternity ward with a mother who had low levels of education and who was poor.

Poverty and low grades

The elevated number of single mothers goes a long way to explaining the persistently high level of poverty among children in the United States, according to Hymowitz. No fewer than 36% of female-headed families are below the poverty line, compared with 6% of married couples.

Poverty is far from the only problem facing children of unmarried mothers. They also have lower grades and educational qualifications compared to children who grow up with married parents. This holds true even after allowing for differences in race, family background and IQ. Not surprisingly, this also means that as adults, children who did not grow up with both parents also earn less and have a lower occupational status.

This leads to a situation, Hymowitz continued, where the social and economic inequalities owing to single motherhood are perpetuated into the next generation.

These problems cannot be resolved just through better welfare programs, Hymowitz contended. She pointed out that when a divorced mother remarries, her children's outcomes resemble those of children from single-parent families more than those from intact families. In addition, children of cohabiting parents tend to enjoy few of the benefits that kids from married couples enjoy.

Traditional marriage, and childbearing within marriage, Hymowitz argued, orders society in ways that we are still striving to understand. Children brought up by a married couple are not only given greater security and order in their lives, but they also grow up more likely to want to replicate this same family structure for themselves.

Hymowitz then dedicated a substantial portion of her book to examining what happened with black families, where the trend to single motherhood started much earlier. Already in the mid-1960s, critics ...

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