Breaking up is too easy do

David Blankenhorn, New York Daily News, 4/24/1995

The divorce revolution has failed to deliver its promise of greater human happiness and better male-female relationships. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. Yet according to most measurements, relationships between men and women are getting worse, not better. People are getting angrier and lonelier. Remarriages – trying again until we get it right – are not working very well. Second and third marriages are even more likely to result in divorce than first marriages. Researchers tell us marital satisfaction in the U.S. is declining. Why? In a divorce culture, not only do more troubled marriages end in divorce, but more marriages become troubled and unhappy.

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Subjects: Family, Fatherhood, Marriage, Divorce

More by: David Blankenhorn

It is time to reverse the divorce revolution, and recreate a marriage culture.

By divorce revolution, I mean the decay of marriage as a social institution and the rapid increase in children who do not live with their two married parents. Unless we reverse this trend, no other accomplishments – not economic growth or lower taxes or new government programs – will reverse our social recession or halt the decline of child well-being.

The divorce revolution has failed to deliver its promise of greater human happiness and better male-female relationships. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. Yet according to most measurements, relationships between men and women are getting worse, not better. People are getting angrier and lonelier.

Remarriages – trying again until we get it right – are not working very well. Second and third marriages are even more likely to result in divorce than first marriages. Researchers tell us marital satisfaction in the U.S. is declining. Why? In a divorce culture, not only do more troubled marriages end in divorce, but more marriages become troubled and unhappy.

Almost one of every three babies born this year will be born to unmarried mothers. About 10% will be born to unwed teen mothers. Is this growing separation of marriage from childbearing making us any happier? Any richer? Any safer? Is it making us better parents? Is it making us a better society?

The explosion of divorce and nonmarriage in this generation has maimed our children. Most important, it has produced an astonishing increase in fatherlessness. Tonight, about 40% of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live.

For children, fatherlessness is the most harmful social rend of our time. It is increasingly recognized as the engine driving our worst social problems, from crime to child poverty to domestic violence against women.

A society with fewer and fewer fathers will become – as the U.S. has become – a society with more and more prison cells, orphanages, social workers, special-education classes, court-appointed child psychologists and child-support enforcement officials. In short, it will become a society in which violence is increasing and child well-being is declining.

If the divorce revolution has failed, what can replace it? The answer seems obvious.

We need to replace our divorce culture with a marriage culture. No, we will not and should not "go back" to the gender roles of an earlier era. Compared to previous generations, good marriages today embody considerably more choices for women regarding paid employment and public life, as well as much more equal regard between husband and wife.

But let us, without apology or equivocation, "go back" to supporting marriage as a social institution, believing in the ideal of marital permanence and insisting upon marriage as the best environment for raising children.

Many people, of course, will oppose this idea. Indeed, if you want to say something controversial today, say that unwed childbearing is wrong, that our divorce rate is far too high and that every child deserves to grow up with two married parents. Moreover, the more specific we get, the more resistance we will encounter.

Should divorce laws be changed to give more respect and power to the spouse who does not want the divorce? Should we "stigmatize" divorce and unwed childbearing – make people feel bad about it – in the same way that we now stigmatize cigarette smoking and racially derogatory language?

These are not easy questions, but to me, the answer to both of them is yes. For 1 believe that no domestic challenge facing our nation today is more important than reversing the divorce revolution and recreating a culture that supports marriage.

For the children

Today's Op-ed page contains a column by author David Blankenhorn about the most significant social crisis of these times: the breakdown of the family and its impact on children. It's an alarm that must be heard.

More and more kids are growing up with one, unmarried parent, which Blankenhorn says "has maimed our children." Dramatic, yes, but it's the documented truth. Children who grow up in single-parent homes are more likely to have low grades, quit school and have out-of-wedlock babies. And they are far more likely to be poor. While less than 10% of two-parent families live in poverty, almost half of those headed by single mothers do.

But these kids aren't just economically deprived. Far worse. That's because good parents do what even the best schools and criminal justice system can't: teach values.

Think about it. Who taught you the most lasting lessons about right and wrong? Chances are, it was a parent. And two parents can provide more than twice as much guidance and support as one. For a mother and father don't just help their kids cope and succeed. They also help each other.

The point is not to condemn divorce or struggling, and often heroic, single parents. It is simply to reaffirm a rock-solid truth amid a swamp of shifting values: A stable family is society's building block. The stronger America's families are, the more prosperous and harmonious the entire nation will be.

This article originally appeared here.

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