Linda & Richard Eyre: Social problems and the decline of family

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27 2014 12:45 p.m. MDT

Linda and Richard Eyre share an excerpt from their new book, "The Turning: Why the state of the family matters, and what the world can do about it."


Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre. The book will be released at the end of August.

The clear connection between the decline of families and the world’s social problems cannot be ignored. The trick is figuring out which is the cause and which is the effect. Most economists and politicians blame both social ills and family instabilities on poverty. Our thesis is that the cause and effect works both ways and that poverty, instability and social problems are often the direct result of declining or poorly functioning families.

A strong case can be made for family (or lack of family) as the cause and everything else as the effect or the result. After all, everything, including each of us, originates with families, with homes, with parents; and how those homes function largely determines the economic, moral and character results that come out of them.

But of course it is a mistake to oversimplify or to claim that all social problems are directly created by inadequate families. Our social ills have many causes, but the “cause” of the most far-reaching and devastating “effects,” aka “social ills” — and the one we are finally on the verge of understanding — is the decline and breakdown of the family and the accompanying deterioration of basic personal values.

There has been no shortage of comment and speculation about “family decline” and “values deterioration” in recent years, but two things have been wrong, or at least inadequate, in most of what has been written and spoken.

First, most of the dialogue is too theoretical and academic. The statistics about divorce, latchkey children, decreasing parent-child communication, and time spent together are academic parts of sociology courses. Increases in violence, gangs, substance abuse, bullying, teen promiscuity and pregnancy, crime, teen suicide, gang violence, school dropout rate and AIDS are daily headlines, nightly news and the subjects of all kinds of popular discussion and the targets of all kinds of proposed “solutions.” But these are rarely connected clearly to their most predictable cause — the breakdown of the families and values. Common sense tells us of the connection, of the cause and effect, yet we keep talking about, worrying about and working on the effects and ignoring the cause.

The fundamental question that always arises is, “Are social problems ravaging our families, or are failing marriages and troubled families making social problems inevitable?”

The real answer, of course, is, “Both.”

In a classic vicious cycle, more of one breeds more of the other, and more of the other breeds more of the one.

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