The Washington Post had a fascinating piece in Sunday's paper about how the number of couples with children in America is dropping. Giving himself plenty of room for analysis from the smart people at the Brookings Institution and other places, reporter Blaine Harden tracks an under-reported story that is changing the face of America. A huge ghost throughout the story is the religious element of the family. While the story was thorough, it would be interesting to hear what the folks in Colorado Springs or at the Saddleback church thought about these trends:
As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.
"The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in," said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.
"We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids," said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.
Why is the marriage decline story a religious story? Well, because the religious people, especially those on the right, say so and they do so loudly. How many times have you heard Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council say that the government needs to guard marriage, the bedrock of the institution of the family and the foundation of the United States of America? Quite legitimately, people associate marriage with religion.
For more analysis that touches on the religious aspect of this story, I turn to Post op-ed columnist Harold Meyerson, who says that this article shows the inherent contradictions in the Republican Party today and going back to the Reagan years of the 1980s:
Yet the very conservatives who marvel at the efficiency of our new, more mobile economy and extol the "flexibility" of our workforce decry the flexibility of the personal lives of American workers. The right-wing ideologues who have championed outsourcing, offshoring and union-busting, who have celebrated the same changes that have condemned American workers to lives of financial instability, piously lament the decline of family stability that has followed these economic changes as the night the day.
American conservatism is a house divided against itself. It applauds the radicalism of the economic changes of the past four decades -- the dismantling, say, of the American steel industry (and the job and income security that it once provided) in the cause of greater efficiency. It decries the decline of social and familial stability over that time -- the traditional, married working-class families, say, that once filled all those churches in the hills and hollows in what is now the smaller, post-working-class Pittsburgh.
Hey James Dobson, what do you think about that? Can you discuss for us?
Where is the role of faith in marriage? Is there a role for religion in preserving marriages and keeping homes together? Is it broken marriages that cause economic decline, or is the economic decline caused by the broken marriage or the lack thereof? Meyerson raises an excellent point that economics affects the institution of the family in America, but is there a role for the sexual revolution in this story?