Might there be a new consensus forming on the problems associated with the decline of marriage and family life?
Charles Murray’s recent book, captured in an article here, argues that America is becoming a caste society. There are no permanent or legal barriers between the upper classes and the poorer classes, but there is a dramatic cultural difference between the two. Those cultural differences related mostly to marriage and family life. Considering only whites, 84% of women in our new upper class are married with children, while merely 48% of the women in our new lower class marry. These numbers are connected with other numbers—the upper classes are more religious and attend church weekly; single parenthood is still very much out of the norm among the upper classes (6% of children are born out of wedlock), while the national rate is 44%; the upper classes work and find fulfillment in work.
Not surprisingly, the amazing decline of fatherlessness is connected with great social pathologies such as crime,lack of educational achievement, drug use, poor family life for the children (perpetuating the cycle), dependence on government programs, excessive television and video game playing, poor reading and writing skills, and so on.
For those who pay any attention to family sociology, none of these findings are particularly new or surprising. Kay Hymowitz has shown this is true in her Marriage and Caste in America; David Blankenhorn in his Fatherless America; David Popenoe in his Life without Father. My book is also not silent on these matters.
Now we have a new shooter, the New York Times. The upper classes practice an easy-going relativism in theory—they say that all forms of family life are equal or whatever floats your boat—but in reality or in action, they live according to a pretty well laid out plan—college, marriage, children. The lower classes value family life much more (perhaps because they lack it), but practice what the upper classes preach. This is our situation as presented in the Times’ article. The discrepancies are worse among blacks and Latinos. The basic trend has been in this direction for the past thirty years: children and adults need families to thrive and many children and adults still do thrive today in marriage and family life; but the legacy of this institution are being progressively lost among the lower classes. This intractable problem cannot be solved by government programs nor by the easy going relativism of the upper classes. Just what will it take?