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Marry Her?
But What About That
Girl Over There?


The Laissez-Faire Family
by Roberto Rivera y Carlo

Those of you who, for some unfathomable reason, have read more than a few of my Boundless pieces will probably have guessed that I love baseball. There are a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason is that numbers matter in baseball in a way that they don't in other sports, which, in turn, matters to a nerd like me. If you tell me that a second baseman has an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .850, I know exactly what to make of that in a way that I could never if I were told that "so and so is a good 'cover two' corner."

This is one way that, as sportswriter Tom Boswell put it, life imitates the World Series. Numbers may not always be the best guide for our actions but they are a lot more reliable than our subjective impressions, especially in those areas where what's true conflicts with what we want (and even need) to be true.

One of those areas is marriage and the family. Our cultural trajectory has been in the direction of what Jennifer Roeback Morse of the Hoover Institution once dubbed the "laissez faire family." As with its economic counterpart, the idea is that people should be free to create and implement whatever domestic arrangement works best for them — however they define "best" — with a minimum of outside interference.

The impact of this social trajectory is the subject of a recent report by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. The institution that gave us NBA Commissioner David Stern, Tony Soprano, Mister Magoo, inter alia, has now given us "The State of Our Unions 2006."

The report describes two trends that, at first glance, don't appear to be related. The first trend is that "for an increasing segment of the adult population ... life with children is receding as a defining experience of adult life."

Here are some of the numbers: "In 1970, 73.6 percent of women, ages 25-29 ... were living with at least one minor child of their own. By 2000, the share had dropped to 48.7 percent. In 1970, 27.4 percent of women, ages 50-54, had at least one minor child of their own in the household. By 2000, the share of such women had fallen to 15.4 percent." Finally, whereas in 1976, one out of 10 women in their early 40s was childless, today it's almost one in five.

The other trend highlighted by the report is what it calls a "marriage gap." While the institutions of marriage and family have grown weaker in the past few decades, the deleterious effects of that weakening have not been spread evenly throughout the population. As the report tells us, "for the college-educated minority of the American population, marriage appears to have gotten stronger in recent years." Unfortunately, "for everyone else, marriage continues to get weaker." The result of this "marriage gap" is "a society of greater inequality" as America becomes "a nation divided not only by education and income levels but by unequal family structures."

These — superficially, at least — unrelated trends both originate in our changing attitudes and beliefs about the nature and purpose of marriage and the ways these changes work their way through the culture.

In a 2002 City Journal article, political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote about a slow, almost unnoticed "subversion" of the "popular support for marriage." "Whereas marriage was once thought to be about a social union, it is now about personal preferences." Instead of enforcing "the desirability of marriage without asking what went on in that union," the law and popular opinion "enforce the desirability of personal happiness without worrying much about maintaining a formal relationship."

Stated differently, "Marriage was once a sacrament, then it became a contract, and now it is an arrangement. Once religion provided the sacrament, then the law enforced the contract, and now personal preferences define the arrangement."

The results of this subversion include postponing or foregoing marriage altogether and, as a consequence or by design, having fewer children. As I've previously written in Boundless, these consequences have profound cultural, economic, political and even security implications for western countries.

However, by far, the direst consequences of the subversion are visited upon the marginalized. As Wilson, quoting Myron Magnet's "The Dream and The Nightmare," put it, "when the haves remake a culture, the people who pay the price are the have-nots." What seems like small and subtle shifts to the "college-educated minority" (i.e., us) winds up devastating the vulnerable.

Wilson famously draws an analogy to the game "crack-the-whip" in which the head of the whip "runs ... around in random directions, with subsequent players holding on to the hand of the previous player.... The longer the tail, the more the forces act on the last player, and the tighter they have to hold on." Many of those at the end of the line fall down. Just as "those children who did not begin the turning suffer most from the turn," the people who didn't initiate the cultural shift are most profoundly affected by it.

If you're having trouble understanding how seemingly minor changes in our beliefs about the nature and purpose of marriage could have large-scale consequences, the libertarian blogger Jane Galt (the name is the female version of John Galt, the protagonist of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged") would tell you that you're probably not the "marginal case." Galt — whose real name is Megan McArdle — and Wilson agree that "highly educated, firmly socialized, upper middle class" folks are not the "marginal marriage candidate[s]" most likely to be affected by our tinkering with the definition and purposes of marriage.

What's more, at this point we should appreciate the power of unintended consequences. Two of the examples Galt cites are the extension of welfare benefits to unwed mothers and the relaxation of divorce laws. In both instances, misgivings about the impact of these measures were dismissed as "ridiculous." "What kind of idiot would have a baby out of wedlock just because the state was willing to give her paltry welfare benefits?" "The only people who get divorced will be people who have terrible problems! A few percentage points at most!"

As Galt says "oops!" Would-be "reformers," however well-intentioned, proved to be completely wrong about the real-world impact of their proposals. And, in both instances, the people most hurt were the marginalized and vulnerable.

And that brings me back to "The State of Our Unions 2006." What the Marriage Project calls "fragile families," families that are hard-pressed to provide for the "proper socialization and overall wellbeing of [their] children," are "fragile" precisely because of changes in family structure that are results of the "subversion" described above.

Even more cruelly, the effects of our tinkering with marriage and family on the marginalized aren't limited to their current hardships. As the report documents, the "marriage gap" will make it harder for them and their kids to catch up with the better-off minority.

It's not just that the "college-educated minority" have more money, it's that when it comes to the overall wellbeing of children, two parents are definitely better than one by almost every conceivable measure. The numbers don't lie: there's nothing fair about the laissez-faire family.
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* * * Four Important Things To KNOW: #1) For ALL (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) have sinned & fall short of the glory of God. #2) For the wages of above (see #1) are DEATH (Hell, eternal separation from God, & damnation) but the Gift (free & at no charge to you) of God (Creator, Jehovah, & Trinity) is Eternal Life (Heaven) through (in union with) Jesus Christ (God, Lord, 2nd Person of The Trinity, Messiah, Prince of Peace & Savior of the World). #3) For God so greatly loved & dearly prized the world (Americans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhist, Asians, Presbyterians, Europeans, Baptist, Brazilians, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc.) that He even gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, that whosoever (anyone, anywhere, anytime - while still living) believes (trust in, relies on, clings to, depends completely on) Him shall have eternal (everlasting) life (heaven). #4) Jesus said: "I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE. No one (male/female - American, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Asian, Presbyterian, European, Baptist, Brazilian, Mormons, Methodist, French, etc. ) comes (arrives) to the Father (with GOD in Heaven) EXCEPT BY (through) ME (no other name). *** This wonderful loving GOD gives you the choice - - - (Rev. 3:20) {Please note that church membership, baptism, doing good things, etc. are not requirements for becoming a Christian - however they are great afterwards!!!} *** Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Hell, damnation, eternal punishment), and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life (Heaven, eternal happiness, forever with God), and only a few find it.

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But these are written so that you may
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the
Son of God, and that by believing in
Him you will have life. Jn 20:31

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near. Let the
wicked forsake his way and the evil
man his thoughts. Let him turn to the
Lord, and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely
pardon. "For My thoughts are not
your thoughts, neither are your ways
My ways," declares the Lord. "As the
heavens are higher than the earth, so
are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down
from heaven, and do not return to it
without watering the earth and making
it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed
for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is My word that goes out from My
mouth: It will not return to Me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and
achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forth
in peace; the mountains and hills will
burst into song before you, and all the
trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the
pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle
will grow. This will be for the Lord's
renown, for an everlasting sign, which
will not be destroyed." Is 55

O Lord, you have searched me and you
know me. You know when I sit and when
I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying
down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know
it completely, O Lord. You hem me in -
behind and before; you have laid your
hand upon me. Such knowledge is too
wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where
can I flee from your presence? If I go up
to the heavens, you are there; if I make
my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide
me and the light become night around
me," even the darkness will not be dark
to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. For you
created my inmost being; you knit me
together in my mother's womb. I praise
you because I am fearfully and wonderfully
made; your works are wonderful, I know
that full well. My frame was not hidden
from you when I was made in the secret
place. When I was woven together in the
depths of the earth, your eyes saw my
unformed body. All the days ordained
for me were written in your book before
one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts,
O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would
outnumber the grains of sand. When
I awake, I am still with you. Search me,
O God, and know my heart; test me
and know my anxious thoughts. See
if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Ps 139

But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up,
that I may show My power in you, and that My
Name may be declared in all the earth. Ex 9:16

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
- - Isaac Watts

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