The Failure of Family Policy

by Stephen Baskerville — The following is an excerpt from an article by Stephen Baskerville, ” The Failure of Family Policy “, based on his new book “Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family“, leading to a most interesting discussion thread pertaining to the article.

Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Jan. 2008

Welfare reform was supposed to discourage unmarried child­bearing. However, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently disclosed that out-of-wedlock births are at a record high. The Census Bureau also reports that, for the first time, married couples constitute less than half of the nation’s households. Thus, whatever the budgetary savings over the past ten years, from the standpoint of the family, welfare reform has failed.

The continued rise in out-of-wedlock births no longer proceeds from just low-income teenagers. In fact, the NCHS reports that the birthrate among girls 10 to 17 dropped to the lowest level on record. It is the sharp rise in births among unmarried mothers in their late 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s that accounts for the record levels. Inspired by such books as Rosanna Hertz’s Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice and Peggy Drexler’s Raising Boys Without Men, these women are moving beyond divorce to dispense with marriage altogether.

It would be a mistake to attribute this trend solely to cultural and lifestyle decadence. The ongoing sexual revolution is now codified in government policies that do more than discourage family formation: They empower officials to dissolve families and offer generous rewards for doing so. The growth of unwed childbearing in the middle class, like the older problem in low-income communities, grows directly out of welfare.

While the conservative focus on the broader cultural causes of illegitimacy is appropriate, neglecting the practical legal issues can hinder our ability to confront the problem. Political scientist James Q. Wilson epitomizes the conservative establishment’s paralysis when he throws up his hands: “If you believe, as I do, in the power of culture, you will realize that there is very little one can do.”

Many social conservatives have cast “family values” in terms of issues that, while undeniably important, are more consequences than causes of family breakdown. Today, the most direct threat to the family is not homosexuality, pornography, popular culture, euthanasia, cloning, or abortion. It is the elephant that barged into America’s living rooms almost four decades ago: As Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes, “Divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays.” While this, too, began as a lifestyle option, it quickly translated into highly destructive policies.

Beginning in the 1970’s, America quietly embarked on the boldest social experiment in her history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that ended marriage as a legal contract and precluded couples from creating binding agreements to rear children. Regardless of the terms on which a marriage is entered, government officials can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve it over the objection of the other and with no penalty to the moving party. As far as the federal and state governments are concerned, all couples are cohabiting….(Full Story)


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