We hear a lot about family breakdown but not much that throws light on its true extent, or on the causes. A new study remedies that by describing the parental relationship in terms of either “belonging” or “rejection”.

According to the first US Index of Belonging and Rejection, published by the Family Research Council, less than 50 percent of American children reach adulthood having grown up in an intact family. By the time they have reached ages 15 to 17, 55 per cent of teens have parents who have rejected each other, either through non-marriage or separation/divorce.
They are living either with a single birth parent, or in a
step-family, or with cohabiting parents, or with neither parent — for
example, with adoptive or foster parents.

The report, by Patrick Fagan of FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute, uses data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Figures on family relationships were gathered for the first time in 2008 and they show, says Fagan, that Americans (and many other nations, surely) have become “gender dysfunctional”. That is, men and women no longer understand that sex is not just something they do; it is meant to bring them together to raise the next generation. Together.

As you would expect, there are large variations across states and regions in association with average parent education, family income levels and ethnic composition, as well as cultural commitment to traditional family life in particular geographic areas.
Thus, the wealthy, well-educated predominantly White (and Asian?) denizens of Nassau County, New York, have the highest proportion of teenagers living in intact families (71 per cent), while the lowest proportion is found among Black Americans living in the Southern states and inner city areas of the Northeast (17 per cent). The Mormon stronghold of Utah is the state with the highest belonging ratio (59 per cent); Asian Americans are the ethnic group with the top score (62 per cent).

Masses of research findings tell us that family breakdown is bad for children and bad for the country both socially and economically.

Bluntly put, the United States will not be able to maintain its leadership role in the community of nations unless its parents take a leadership role in the communities they have built: their families, which are the fundamental units of our society. If the United States desires to be a leader in the world, pursuing what is good for itself and other nations, its parents must first be leaders of their own homes and children.

The Black Family is of particular concern — as it was already 45 years ago when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his famous, but largely ignored warning on what was happening in that community.

So what is to be done?

“American men and women need to learn anew how to belong to each other, so that they can not only beget but also raise the next generation together.”

If Black Americans could lead the way they would be doing the whole country a service, says Fagan.

He concludes that correcting gender dysfunction is America’s biggest social challenge, and while the government must play a part, the more fundamental role belongs to families themselves, aided by the institutions of religion and education. It is a relational task and must be led primarily by those with expertise in relationships.

The index is a very helpful way to analyse and describe the problems besetting the family today.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet