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. The first is
broadly economic: the “great transformation” in human affairs called
industrialization, which about 150 years ago broke the age-old bond between work
and home: the workplace and the living place became separate, a new and profound
development in human affairs. Where traditional societies—such as a land of
peasant farms—reinforce a tight bond between family and the economy, strong
family bonds actually impede both industrial capitalism and industrial
socialism. This creates incentives that tend to weaken and marginalize family
The second challenge came
from that “cloud of ideologies” common to the modern era, each one in its own
way seeking to dismantle traditional family life. These idea systems included
communism, sexual hedonism, racial nationalism, and militant secularism, and
atomistic individual. Most found fresh strength again in the 1960’s,
contributing to the crisis in the family that we now face.
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.
He writes: “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