Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shocking data shows a dangerous decline

of the two-parent American family

The traditional American family, the foundation of our society, is under assault, and becoming increasingly less an influence on American culture. Many families are broken up through divorce or the death of one of the parents, while others never properly form, as people opt out of formal marriage in favor of cohabitation. Two factors — divorce and out-of-wedlock births — head the list of factors contributing to the demise of the traditional family.

Common statistics that we hear are that roughly half the marriages entered into today will end in divorce, and that the rate of out-of-wedlock births has grown over the last few decades. The result of these two phenomena is an increasing number of single-parent families.

A University of Chicago study reported that from 1972 to 1998 the percentage of children living with their original two married parents fell from 73 percent to 52 percent; that children living with single parents went from 4.7 percent to 18.2 percent; and that whereas in 1972 the most common arrangement was married couples with children — 45 percent — by 1998 only 26 percent of households reflected this arrangement.

Things haven’t improved since then. Marriages fail for a number of reasons, including that many people enter into marriage without making a real commitment to the relationship; they don’t take the time to get to know each other, and the relationship has a weak foundation. Or, young people romanticize the concept of marriage, thinking it will be “neat” and “fun.” So, they get married, and then when things go less than perfectly, as they nearly always do, many people just bail out.

A further complication is that marriage has lost popularity in America. Not so long ago it was a natural and integral part of every young person’s future; getting married and raising a family was “what we did” as adults. But more frequently, people are not getting married, some because they don’t want the social restrictions associated with committing to another person, and some because they want to avoid the legal entanglements implicit in a formal marriage, about half of which will fail.

The traditional family — one mom, one dad and 2.3 children — is the cornerstone of our culture and it ought to disturb us that the traditional family is to a large degree becoming a thing of the past.

Whatever the reasons for fewer successful long-term marriages and fewer stable two-parent families, the decline of the traditional family poses a significant challenge to our cultural and social stability. The effects of this transformation have not yet fully materialized and are not yet fully known. However, we can now see what is happening to children in single parent homes, and that is downright scary.

Two Swedish researchers authored a population study that was published this year in the scientific periodical The Lancet that contains strong evidence that children brought up in single parent households are more likely than children brought up with both parents in the same household to suffer many types of problems

And it apparently does not matter whether the family was broken up through divorce or the death of a parent, or even when a single-parent household came about because of an out-of-wedlock birth or adoption of a child by a single individual; the risks to children in single-parent families are much higher than in two-parent families for a broad range of serious problems.

Children from single-parent homes are three to four times more likely to suffer from obesity, drug abuse or drug addiction, and alcoholism than children in a traditional two-parent family.

Children with single parents showed increased risks of psychiatric disease, suicide or attempted suicide, or injury. These results stand even after adjustment for factors such as socioeconomic status and parents' addiction or mental disease.

Studies also show problems in cognitive and academic ability, resulting in lower academic achievement, lower math scores, a greater failure rate, lower SAT scores, lower IQ scores, a higher dropout rate, and a lower college attendance rate. Children from single-parent homes also exhibit a higher degree of antisocial behavior, including higher rates of criminal behavior, greater delinquency for both girls and boys, and increased violent behavior in schools. They are also at greater risk of being physically and sexually abused.

That children in single-parent families are at such great risk for so many serious problems ought to get everyone’s attention, and it ought to be sufficient stimulus to cause us to examine what is happening to our culture due to some of the choices society has made. It should be sufficient to force us to change course to reduce or eliminate a completely controllable negative factor threatening not only our children, but also the very stability of our society. The last four decades have seen traditions upon which our nation was built attacked and beaten down.

People long ago predicted that liberal attitudes about marriage, sex, and personal behavior were bound to effect society negatively, and the shocking data on children in single-parent homes is evidence that they were right.

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