It's time for a simple poll question: OK, GetReligion readers, raise your hand if you think there is a moral and, in this culture, religious element present in most discussions of (a) sex outside of marriage, (b) cohabitation, (c) having children outside of wedlock and (d) all of the above? I am well aware that some, if not many, Americans would deny that religious faith plays a role in these issues. I would be the last person to claim that religious faith, or the lack thereof, always plays a role in these issues.
I am simply asking if most Americans would see some connections between religious faith and practice and the moral component of these crucial social issues. It goes without saying that almost all religious leaders, teachers and believers -- in all ethnic groups -- would see a strong connection and, even in 21st Century America, that's a lot of people.
However, what about the people who occupy the newsroom of The New York Times?
Not so much.
Thus, I share the concerns of GetReligion readers who sent me notes about that long, long, long and totally faith-free Times piece that ran under the headline, "Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do.’ " It is also interesting to note that this news feature also omitted a very important name (even for New Yorkers) -- Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
It was Moynihan the social scientist who, back in the late 1960s, declared that, in the near future, the most important class divides in American life would not be defined by race, but by marital status. More and more, he said, poverty would be linked to one key factor -- whether a child grows up in a two-parent home and, in particular, whether the child has a father.
Now, the Times notes:
The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.
But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans ... are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. (Jessica) Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.
Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns -- as opposed to changes in individual earnings -- may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.
This is, of course, simply a matter of economics:
About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.
Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class -- among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.
While many children of single mothers flourish (two of the last three presidents had mothers who were single during part of their childhood), a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school. ...
Married couples are having children later than they used to, divorcing less and investing heavily in parenting time. By contrast, a growing share of single mothers have never married, and many have children with more than one man.
In large part, while the story focuses on the women, this is just as much a story about the moral choices and commitments of men. Is there a moral component missing from the lives of these love-them-then-leave-them fathers who, as the story notes, "come and go"? The women, we are told, make decisions and then have to live with them. Are there moral components to their decisions?
Once again, I am not saying that this is always a religious issue. I am asking if, in this culture, these are issues that can be fully discussed without raising religious questions and without listening to religious voices. It's a matter of mathematics, for me.
Meanwhile, here is Schairer's voice again:
William Penn University, eight hours away in Iowa, offered a taste of independence and a spot on the basketball team. Her first thought when she got pregnant was “My mother’s going to kill me.” Abortion crossed her mind, but her boyfriend, an African-American student from Arkansas, said they should start a family. They agreed that marriage should wait until they could afford a big reception and a long gown.
Their odds were not particularly good: nearly half the unmarried parents living together at a child’s birth split up within five years, according to Child Trends.
Ms. Schairer has trouble explaining, even to herself, why she stayed so long with a man who she said earned little, berated her often and did no parenting. They lived with family (his and hers) and worked off and on while she hoped things would change. “I wanted him to love me,” she said. She was 25 when the breakup made it official: she was raising three children on her own.
Yes, clearly this is just an economic issue. Would most readers, across the nation, agree?