February 28, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Like Suzanne Venker a few days ago, Steve Hilton gets it right about the crisis of family breakdown (Fox News, 2/24/18). And like Venker, his jumping off point is the incident of mass murder at Parkland, Florida, to which Nikolas Cruz has confessed to police.
Hilton rightly calls family breakdown “the biggest issue America refuses to talk about.” I would add that it’s our biggest social issue. Period.
But at the heart of it is the most important social change of all – the biggest issue that Americans refuse to talk about: family breakdown…
[Violent deaths] are caused by individuals who are troubled in more mundane ways, and whose unstable family backgrounds are an instrumental factor in risky behavior, like joining a gang.
The immediate reason for writing is the Parkland shooting and that family breakdown exacerbates crime. But Hilton understands that, just because that’s the immediate concern doesn’t mean it’s the only one.
The deeper point is to understand that this is much bigger than just crime. More and more children in America are growing up in broken homes and in a culture of toxic stress and violence.
Most of these children will never commit a crime. But many will end up living in poverty. Suffering addiction. Or homelessness, or debt, or persistent unemployment – or a combination of these things – trapping them in lives without any of the opportunities that others take for granted.
Hilton could have added poor educational outcomes, emotional/psychological deficits, incarceration and others to his list. All are highly correlated with being raised in a home without two biological parents. But his “deeper point” is spot on. Family breakdown reaches its fingers deeply into all aspects of life to produce children and adults who are less happy, less functional, less reliable than their peers who are raised with two parents.
The causal connection between family breakdown and the intractable social issues that form the core of our political debates – taxes and government spending, inequality, crime – is well researched and well established. The science is in. It’s just that we don’t want to confront it because it means confronting something that is very personal to each of us: how we choose to live our lives.
I frankly don’t know if causality has been definitely demonstrated. But I do know that, when all the usual variables – race, class, income, educational level, religion, etc. – are held constant, family breakdown emerges as the factor associated with the various problems and deficits I’ve mentioned. Stated another way, when the usual suspects turn out to be innocent, what is left but family breakdown as the cause of those many social issues. When poor minority children raised with two biological parents do better psychologically on average than do affluent white kids raised by a single parent, only a fool refuses to address the problem of family breakdown.
So what does that make American society?
The elephant in the room is marriage. The data shows clearly that on average, children who are raised in stable homes with both parents do better. Children from divorced parents, or whose parents never married in the first place, do worse – whether that’s in terms of lower levels of social mobility or higher levels of poverty.
Hilton’s right. Married couples are more likely than unmarried couples to stay together and, if they have kids, provide a better home environment and parenting. What he misses is what so many others who argue in favor of marriage fail to notice – the institution of marriage is, as a matter of public policy, hostile to men.
As Samuel Johnson said, “marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” That was never more true than it is today and especially for men. The instant a man marries, he’s at war with family law and family courts. He may not realize it until his wife files for divorce, but at war he is. At least half of what he earns and saves is his wife’s regardless of how much she contributed to the family income. His chance of being tossed out of his children’s lives is on the order of 82%. He’ll find that the same court that ordered that he have visitation rights is uninterested in enforcing them. Depending on how long he’s been married, he may find himself paying alimony for years, decades or even the rest of his life. He’ll find that child support levels bear little resemblance to what it costs to raise a child and, unlike its indifference to his visitation rights, the court will enforce his obligation to pay with usurious interest, the loss of occupational and drivers’ licenses and jail.
If marriage is the answer, the question must be put, not to men, but to family courts.
And while I’m on the subject of men, let’s not forget that, when Hilton says “family breakdown,” he overwhelmingly means “father absence.” Public laws, public policy, public discourse all militate against fathers being part of their children’s lives. It is that, not some mysterious force that results in “family breakdown” that plagues every aspect of American life. Everyone, including Hilton, should call it by its proper name.
Still, Hilton’s correct to force his readers to confront the most pressing problem we face. It can’t happen too often.
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