Keeping families intact can help the country steer away from disaster

Published: Sunday, March 24 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

To those of an older generation, the logic is no-doubt self-evident. When families break down, a host of societal ills follow, and these ultimately lead to costs and the need for social programs.

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To those of an older generation, the logic is no-doubt self-evident. When families break down, a host of societal ills follow, and these ultimately lead to costs and the need for social programs.

Too many others, however, can't see the logic.

A new report titled, "Wayward Sons," was published last week by Third Way. Written by MIT economist David H. Autor and graduate student Melanie Wasserman, it drills deep into the disturbing trend of a growing educational and economic disparity between men and women, in which men are faring increasingly worse. The data leads directly to the decline of the traditional two-parent family, which seems to have hurt young men worse than young women, although the young women aren't exactly thriving, either.

Third Way is a center-left research organization that can't be accused of having a conservative agenda, which makes the findings all the more noteworthy. The research suggests that an increasing number of young men are caught in a disturbing downward cycle.

In 1970, 82 percent of children lived in a household with two married parents. Today, only 63 percent do. The vast majority of these modern children are being raised by their mothers. Single mothers, research shows, earn significantly less than married couples. Boys raised in these situations naturally tend to have limited resources for education. As the report says, "Less-educated males are far less likely than highly educated males to marry, but they are not less likely to have children." Their offspring continue the cycle by living in economically insecure households and being raised primarily by single mothers, reducing their chances for higher education and well-paying jobs.

The report also found that single mothers tend to spend more time nurturing their daughters than their sons. Again, this seems logical. Boys need a strong male role model in the home to guide them into adulthood. Girls do, as well, but they can more naturally look to their mothers as models for behavior.

No one should be surprised that the study also found the decline in marriage has not corresponded with any sort of increase in stable cohabitation relationships. Absent any commitment to a relationship beyond selfish interests, nurturing households cannot exist.

Almost as interesting as the study itself has been the reaction from various quarters. Some are calling for low-wage employment subsidies for uneducated young men as a way to make up for the failings of the marketplace. Perhaps through greater public spending, these men would be more inclined toward steady employment and taking responsibility for their offspring.

Author Dorothy Canfield once said, "To force opinion is like pushing the magnetized needle round until it points to where we wish the North Star stood." No matter how much entitlement spending the nation may decide to do, it cannot replace the true North Star of committed marriage.

The study makes it abundantly clear that marriage is a social good. Committed, loving parents rid society of a host of spending needs.

This week, the U.S Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the legality of same-sex marriage. While all eyes are riveted on Washington and on questions of states' rights and definitions, we suggest governments ought to shift the focus toward the needs of children.

The effects of a downward spiral toward single-parent homes and fatherless children will lead to greater consequences as the trend grows. Too many boys and girls already have had their potential sacrificed to this societal plague. Governments should do all they can to enact policies that strengthen and reinforce the need for marital commitments, and that teach people the skills they need to make such commitments thrive.

That, as our ancestors instinctively knew, is the only logical course away from disaster.

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