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The silence of the wedding bells

By Carey Roberts
web posted December 4, 2006

Am I the only one who is worried about the collapse of the traditional American family right before our very eyes?

Census Bureau bureaucrats are not in the habit of making apocalyptic pronouncements, but last year Mark Mather reported that the "dramatic decline" in the married population is "one of the biggest demographic stories of the past several decades." Now, married couples now account for a minority – 49.7 per cent to be exact – of all U.S. households.

The cause of this extraordinary demographic shift is two-fold. First, Americans are getting married only half as often as we used to. Second since 1960, the share of divorced Americans rose from 2 per cent to 10 per cent.

African-American communities have been especially hard-hit. In 1960 four-fifths of all Black families had fathers and mothers at home. Three decades later, that number had plummeted to 38 per cent.

As a result of the decline of marriage, illegitimacy is on the upswing. Just last week the National Center for Health Statistics announced that almost four in 10 babies were born out-of-wedlock in 2005.

All this is very bad news for kids, since children raised only by mothers are more likely to be poor, suffer from a host of behavioral and academic problems, and get in trouble with the law.

For sure, the great majority of young women say they plan to get married and have kids some day. So why has Cosmo replaced Bride magazine in the supermarket check-out lines?

Some experts cite the "greater economic independence of women," as if a single mom scraping by on a welfare check is what female liberation is all about. Others argue that Americans are simply delaying the age of marriage, suggesting that women who are nervously watching their biological clocks just need to be a little more patient.

But there's one fact that's hard to dispute: our country faces an acute shortage of marriage-minded men.

Two years ago Barbara Whitehead and David Popenoe of Rutgers University did a national survey of single heterosexual men, ages 25-34. To everyone's shock, they found 22 per cent of the men declared no interest in finding their One and Only. That means two million American women will likely never see the inside of a wedding chapel.

Now, hooking-up is replacing that quaint courtship ritual that used to be known as "dating." When Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt surveyed college senior women, they found that one-third of the women had been asked on fewer than two dates.

And this past August the New York Times ran a piece on "Facing Middle Age with No Degree, and No Wife," which revealed the reluctance to wed runs especially deep in less educated men.

There is overwhelming research that shows marriage benefits both men and women in terms of their financial and emotional well-being. Plus, married folks live longer. So what do we need to do to entice men back into the courtship ritual?

The Nasty Nellies have been giving marriage a bum rap for years, so sadly there are no quick fixes. But this is what we need to do.

First, we need to dispose of the boogeyman of the patriarchal ogre lording over his beleaguered wife. If that image was ever true, it certainly doesn't apply to any couple that I know of. In fact, the reverse now seems to be more commonplace: the harried, henpecked husband who's hectored to keep his feet off the furniture during the ball game.

Second, we need to consider the effects of the 1992 Supreme Court's Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that banned fathers from participating in decisions to keep the unborn baby, thus leaving them biologically disenfranchised.

Third, we've got to do more to help boys excel academically. Trash the Title IX quotas, provide special help for boys who are lagging, and tell teachers to stop expecting boys to act like girls.

Fourth, we need to do a major overhaul of our nation's domestic violence laws, which allow any woman to plunder her husband's assets and steal his children by merely claiming "abuse."

And fifth, reform of our divorce laws is long overdue, so fathers are encouraged to remain involved in their children's lives as parents, not every-other-weekend visitors.

Sadly in low-income Black communities, marriage is essentially a dead institution. And there are groups in our country that now want to extend their agenda of family destruction to society at large.

The family is the very building block of a civilized and prosperous society. What will it take to bring back the exuberant peal of June wedding bells? ESR

Carey Roberts is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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