It is scarier than we imagine! The breakdown of families is creating a whole new underclass in America — almost a third of our population that doesn’t attend church; doesn’t get married or make real family commitments; doesn’t finish high school or attend college; doesn’t work full time; doesn’t eat right or exercise and thus is seriously overweight; and essentially doesn’t believe in the ideals that this country was founded on.
America is more divided right now than it has been at any time in its history since the Civil War.
And the main divider is not race, gender or sexual preferences, or the tea party or the Occupy movement or even basic economics and income. (Each of these is divisive, but none of them is the main divider.)
The great divider is a complicated malaise that can best be defined as the breakdown of families.
In his new book “Coming Apart,” Charles Murray compares two “tribes” of white Americans, age 30 to 49. (He stays with whites in his comparison, because he wants to focus on factors other than race.) People in the top tribe (about 20 percent of the population) have at least a bachelor’s degree and work in higher-paying professional or white-collar jobs. People in the bottom tribe (roughly 30 percent) have no more than a high school diploma and work in blue-collar or low-skilled jobs.
In the top tribe, about 85 percent are married; in the bottom tribe, 48 percent. In the top tribe, 40 percent don’t go to church or profess any religion; in the bottom tribe, the figure is 60 percent. In the top tribe, 12 percent are either unemployed or work only part time; in the bottom tribe it is more than 20 percent. In the top tribe, 6 percent of kids are born out of wedlock; in the bottom tribe, 44 percent.
The trends over the past 50 years are even more worrisome than the numbers themselves. Crime rate in the top tribe has stayed flat since the 1960s while it has sextupled in the bottom tribe. Unemployment has gone up 3 percent in the upper tribe since the ’60s while it has doubled in the bottom tribe. Secularism (no religion) has gone up twice as much in the bottom tribe than in the top. Non-marital birth has doubled in the top tribe but gone up by 700 percent in the bottom tribe.
The great divide, in other words, is getting wider.
These numbers and trends are quite different from most of our prevailing assumptions. For a long, time the common belief has been that lower economic classes were more religious and more traditional than their upper-class counterparts. It turns out that it is just the opposite. Prosperity and education parallel and seem to predict a higher likelihood of having traditional families and values.
But again, the most troubling thing is the ever-widening gap between these two social tribes of Americans. We are becoming polarized into a two-caste society. The top 20 percent is much more prosperous and much more oriented to traditional values, while the bottom 30 percent is less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.
And there is less and less interaction between the two tribes.
People are increasingly likely to live, work, associate and stay among their own tribe. David Brooks of the New York Times suggests that the solution is for members of the top tribe to live and work together with the lower tribe for a couple of years in order to “spread out” the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.” (Sounds a lot like what Mormon missionaries do during their two years of service.)
The real question, of course, is cause and effect. Does the upper tribe have its values and strong families because it is more educated and prosperous, or is it more educated and prosperous because of its values and strong families? We, of course, vote for the latter. Strong families and values are the basic cause. Everything else is effect.
When couples marry and make commitments to each other, they greatly increase their chances of economic well-being. When children are born in wedlock, their opportunities and their likelihood of professional success skyrocket. And when families work and play together and prioritize each other, neighborhoods and communities strengthen, economies improve, less government and fewer “safety nets” are needed and greater collective prosperity results.
Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Read Linda's blog www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html and visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com.