We spent four years of our lives working on a book that we hoped would explain that committed, lasting marriages and prioritized functional families are not only the happiest way to live, but the key to a flourishing economy and a stable society.
In "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters and What the World Can Do About It," we tried to make three points:
1. Households or family groups are the basic unit of society, not individuals. Since recorded history began, families have performed several societal and cultural functions that no other institution can provide: Among these functions are procreation, nurturing, identity-giving, values-teaching and elder-care. When people want to argue about the definition of “family” we suggest that the best way to define family is by these functions — a family is a household unit that is performing or can perform these functions. And societal economic prosperity is greater when family prosperity thrives.
2. Families have declined more in the last 50 years than in the previous 6,000 years. In fact, in the last decade, family majorities have become minorities and non-family minorities have become majorities: More adults in America are now single than married. More children are now born out of wedlock than in. More new couples now choose to cohabit than to marry. More than half of black and Hispanic children are raised in fatherless homes. And more of this world’s countries now have declining populations than growing ones.
3. The increase in social problems directly corresponds with (and is caused by) the decline in functional families. Incidents of poverty, dropping out of school, suicide, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression are all significantly higher in divorced or single-parent families than in intact families. There are so many wonderful single parents, but statistically, kids who come from two-parent families have the best chance.
The point is that everyone, married or single, a parent or not, young or old, black or white, rich or poor, should be concerned about the changes and declines in families — because this decline affects us all economically and culturally.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the problem resulting from fewer young people to support and pay for the needs of more and more older people; but the rise in social problems is equally concerning, as is the prospect of larger institutions trying to perform the child rearing and responsible-adult-producing functions that have traditionally been the role and responsibility of families.
There are a lot of mega problems in our world today, from global warming to terrorism, but none threaten our society and our economy and our culture and our future as much as the decline of families and the growing disinclination to have committed marriages, to prioritize parenting and to form lasting, functional families.
Of course, it is one thing to talk about societal problems and declining families, and another thing all together to do something about it. When we are speaking, we like to tell our audiences that “the best thing you can do for this country, and for society at large, is to form a strong family and raise responsible kids.” In "The Turning," the first third is devoted to outlining the problems of family decline and then shifts to the kind of practical ideas that can make our marriages and our homes stronger.
We are thrilled that "The Turning" is being made into a documentary film and that the book is being updated into a new edition that will come out sometime next year.
And of course our book is not the only warning voice out there. There are lots of great sources for information and projections and prescriptions for stronger families. Two of our favorites are the Utah-based Sutherland Institute whose last bulletin was titled “Economic Prosperity is Greater when Family Prosperity Thrives,” and the Institute for Family Studies whose motto is “Strong Families, Sustainable Societies."
It has been said that the two greatest motivators are fear and love. As a society, we should be motivated by both when it comes to our lifestyles and our priorities and how much they connect to families and familial relationships. We should be motivated by a fear of what our world would become without strong, functioning families, and we should be motivated by the kind of deep and unconditional love that can exist only in committed marriage and devoted, responsible parenting.