The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society for the conference “The Family as a Value in Terms of Religion, Tradition, and Modernity” sponsored by the Writers and Journalists Foundation, 26-27 November 2010, Antalya, Turkey
Our subject this session is FAMILY and ECONOMY. I want to offer opening comments about “The Natural Family in an Unnatural World,” with an emphasis on the economic implications of this theme. Statistics on marriage and family in North America and Europe are not very promising these days. The marriage rate is tumbling, as cohabitation and singlehood spread among young adults.
The average age of first marriage is climbing, for both women and men. The proportion of births to unmarried women, which seemed in the United States a decade ago to have stabilized at about 33 percent, is rising again: reaching 40 percent in 2009. No longer confined to the poor, unmarried parenthood now spreads among the professional classes, as well.
For me, the most discouraging recent marriage statistic came from the Pew Research Center.
As recently as 1990, the Pew researchers reported about two thirds of the American public agreed that children were “very important” to a successful marriage. However, today, only about one of three Americans believe this to be true.
Such a rapid “Delinking” of marriage and parenthood is not just a cosmetic problem. At the legal level, the separation of marriage from procreation gives significant encouragement to the concept of same-sex marriage. As the argument goes: If marriage is less-and-less about creating and nurturing children, and more-and-more about adult companionship and non-procreative or sterile sexuality, why deny the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples?
More importantly, this “delinking” of marriage and procreation negatively affects children. The overwhelming message of modern social research is that children predictably do best when they are raised by their two biological parents in a marriage-based home: this is one basis for the label, natural.
Any variation from this model—be it cohabitation, single parenting, step-parenting, or same-sex couple households—any variation leads predictably to higher risks for the children involved.
These children will be more likely—on average—to do poorly in school; to use alcohol and mind-altering drugs; to attempt suicide; to run afoul of the law.
They will be less likely to be healthy, happy, productive, and civicly-engaged adults. Marriage also predictably delivers a higher likelihood of health, wealth, longer life, and happiness to the women and men who take these vows.
For all of these reasons, the retreat from marriage also means a growing burden on the state.
The failure of married-couple families to form swells the public costs of welfare, child care, health care, schooling, police patrols, and prisons. It also reduces the number of responsibly employed, tax-paying persons.
It is no coincidence that the deconstruction of marriage is most advanced in the crisis-ridden European welfare states.
How did we get to this point? More specifically, if the “natural family” is created in human nature and so beneficial, why is the marriage-based, child-centered family in such trouble?
There are two explanations that are commonly offered:
While acknowledging these causes, there is a third cause, as well. As historian Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee has put it, the primary failure today is one of vision.
“The problem is not serial divorce, nor gay marriage, nor widespread elective childlessness, nor the general disregard for the lives of the very young and very old. Those are only symptoms. The deepest problem is the loss of a generally shared vision, firmly grounded in nature, of what the family is, and why our destiny as individuals and as a society is inseparable from its proper flourishing.”
The consequences of this lack of vision are particularly acute for the young.
The central purpose of my book, The Natural Family, is to offer a fresh vision for the future; one unencumbered by tired language (such as the term, “traditional family”) and by negativism (such as the usual focus by family-advocates on what they oppose). The book also grounds this vision in the research findings of the biological and social science.
My co-author Paul Mero and I summarize our vision in two paragraphs. As you will note, restoring the bonds of marriage to procreation and of the family to the economy are central to our vision.
“We see a world restored in line with the intent of its Creator. We envision a culture—found both locally and universally—that upholds the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as the central aspiration for the young. This culture affirms marriage as the best path to health, security, and fulfillment. It casts the home built on marriage as the source of true political sovereignty, the fountain of democracy.
It also holds the household framed by marriage to be the primal economic unit, a place marked by rich activity, material abundance, and broad self-reliance. This culture treasures private property in family hands as the rampart of independence and liberty. It celebrates the marital sexual union as the unique source of new human life.
We see these homes as open to a full quiver of children, the source of family continuity and social growth. We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers.
We see true happiness as the product of persons enmeshed in vital bonds with spouses, children, parents, and kin. We look to a landscape of family homes and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children. We envision parents as the first educators of their children. We see homes that also embrace extended family members who need special care due to age or infirmity. We view neighborhoods, villages, and townships as the second locus of political sovereignty. We envision a freedom of commerce that respects and serves family integrity. And we look to nation-states that hold the protection of the natural family to be their first responsibility.”
As you can see, The Natural Family: A Manifesto is unabashedly pro-natalist. The so-called “population bomb” was the last century’s fixation, misleading in its assumptions. The true challenge facing the 21st century is demographic implosion, the depopulation now found most acutely, in modern industrial societies: yet spreading to all parts of the globe.
Only those nations that welcome and encourage larger families built on marriage have viable futures, a conclusion that underscores the importance of this conference.