David Brooks, the brilliant New York Times columnist, wrote last week with an interesting perspective on the decline of marriage and particularly of two-parent families, pointing out that the number of Americans who live alone has shot up from 9 percent in 1950 to 28 percent today. In Scandinavia, the percentage of people living alone is more than 40.
And whereas 65 percent of Americans 20 years ago believed that children are very important to a successful marriage, only 41 percent say so today. Brooks summarized this part of his argument with this telling sentence: “There are now more American houses with dogs than with children.”
Indeed, whenever we walk through a big city grocery store, there are two or three aisles of pet food and products compared to one little corner for baby food and diapers.
Brooks calls it “the rise of post-familialism” and believes it is at least partially responsible for the outcome of the presidential election — wherein President Obama beat Mitt Romney, 62 percent to 35 percent, among singles.
What is responsible for the trend away from families and children? Studies suggest a range of causes from the decline in religion to aggressive careers that supersede home life.
But Brooks attributes most of it to the people's desire to keep all options open and not tie themselves down with the commitments and responsibilities of families. Then he gives his own view in one particularly powerful paragraph:
“People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country. The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind. Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like.”
One of our hopes, had Romney won the election, was this kind of greater bias toward family formation and fertility.
But since a Romney presidency won’t be doing it, perhaps the rest of us will have to — those who believe that the family is the basic and essential unit of society, of our economy and of the ennoblement of human beings.
Richard and Linda are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.valuesparenting.com.