The Boston Herald | Op-Ed | November 29, 2010
In a culture that glorifies unwed parents like “Brangelina,” Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin, is it any wonder that Time magazine has declared the institution of marriage to be on the verge of extinction?
In a recent cover story entitled “Who Needs Marriage?” the news-weekly (itself on the verge of extinction) unveils Pew Research Center findings that today fewer American adults are married than ever before (about 50 percent compared to nearly 70 percent in 1960), only 46 percent of unmarried people would like to get married, and almost 40 percent of American adults think marriage is obsolete.
Why? In part, because Americans no longer consider “tying the knot” a prerequisite for sex or child-rearing. So while many Americans continue to celebrate marriage (witness the appeal of shows like “The Bachelor” and the collective obsession with the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton), they no longer view it as necessary.
America’s view of marriage as just another “lifestyle choice” is not without costs. Although Time attempts to paint a rosy picture of changing families and alternative parenting arrangements, the Pew study contains some sobering facts about American children:
— Only 64 percent live with married parents, as compared to 87 percent in 1960.
— Some 41 percent of babies are born out of wedlock (an eight-fold increase since 1960).
— 72 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock.
— Before they turn fifteen, 21 percent of children will see their mothers cohabitate with two different live-in-partners. (An additional 8 percent will see their mothers serially cohabitate with three or more partners.)
When it comes to marriage, political correctness has given birth (literally) to an epidemic of illegitimacy and single-parenting. And these demographics have important social and economic consequences.
In 2008 the median household income of married adults was 41 percent higher than that of single adults after adjusting for household size. So children of unmarried parents are, on average, financially disadvantaged.
Although Time suggests that economic inequality leads to lower marriage rates in some communities, the magazine has cause and effect reversed. In fact, as Kay Hymowitz clearly explains in her book, “Marriage and Caste in America,” single motherhood is a primary cause of entrenched poverty, not the other way around.
If these economic disparities aren’t enough of a reason to stop celebrating single motherhood, Hymowitz shows that even controlling for income, race and education level, children of single mothers are less likely to succeed academically and are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, commit crimes and have children at a young age (often when they are themselves unmarried).
The Pew study is frightening precisely because it reveals a “tale of two cities” – one where babies are born to two-parent families and are likely to lead successful and essentially middle-class lives, and another where babies are born to single moms and face a greater chance of leading economically and socially disadvantaged lives because of it.
Two generations ago, adults viewed marriage in practical terms. Yes, marriage served a romantic purpose. But it also served as the primary vehicle for socialization and economic advancement of the next generation.
Having divorced marriage from sex and child-rearing, American marriage today serves only the narcissistic need for self-fulfillment. We have forgotten that marriage is not just about adult happiness, but also about the responsibilities of parenthood and preparing future generations to thrive and succeed.
So “who needs marriage?” Despite the hang-wringing at Time magazine, the answer is really quite obvious. Kids do.