In one of the most underreported serious stories I can remember, the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University has found "a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage" in this country. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the project's co-director clearly expressed the seriousness of lower marriage rates and out of control births to unwed mothers by saying, "There is no known society that has gotten along without marriage and has done a decent job in rearing and sponsoring the next generation."
Take a look at some of the statistics from the Rutgers research. The marriage rate has sharply declined by one third since 1960. The reasons are complex. First, for a myriad of reasons, marriages are being postponed until couples are older. In 1960 the medium age came out at 20 for women and 23 for men. Today the age is 25 for women and 27 for men. Society can certainly live with later marriages, but the Rutgers report does not stop there.
It is in the area of children born to unwed mothers that are most shocking to me. In 1960, 5.3 percent of babies were born to unwed mothers. By 1997, that figure had grown to 32 percent. Yes, a 600 percent increase. And for African-American women, the figure reached 69 percent. An unwed mother generally means that no father is in the household.
Beyond the sadness of unwed mothers, lies the pain of divorce. In 1960, the divorce rate was 9.2 per 1,000 marriages. In 1998, the rate moved to 19.5 or more than a doubling in 28 years. It can be argued that some children are better off without a father in the family particularly when there has been abuse and a lack of caring. But, if there is anyone out there who can argue that children are generally better off without a male figure in the family, I would say that they are part of the problem.
With the popular culture and the media often hostile to the old fashion normal family, the family structure is indeed impacted. Who are the celebrities children look up to? With more women in the work force, they are less dependent on the male as the sole source of income for a family. These may be some of the reasons for the frailty of the family structure, but they do not diminish the importance of the family in our society.
From welfare to the failed elements of some public schools, the statistics cited in this column directly contribute. The fatherless family has it harder than those with a caring male figure. And society loses as well. Schools cannot educate when there is marginal support at home. Government cannot fix this problem. It is up to each one of us to look into our own hearts as we live our lives. But, I for one, am shocked and dismayed over the number of children being brought into the world without a family structure. We will all pay for the moral decay in the next generation.