America’s greatest crisis may not be the economy. It may be something far deeper, far more social and far more generational. And worse, something that is only talked about in academic and religious circles. America is a melting pot of new ideas, new cultures and new values. Every generation that comes after the prior holds different views and acts on them. But one value that seems to be on the out is the idea of waiting until marriage to have children. In other words continuing the nuclear family.
In a piece by Kay S. Hymowitz the trend of America’s declining nuclear families is leading to a caste system. It is debatable whether America will ever become a fully caste based system but the 2010 census’ data is illuminating. The decline of the nuclear family. Once cherished this hallmark of American culture seems to be on the way out.
According to the 2010 Census 52% of households reported being married (as opposed to 57% in 2000). A Pew survey in late 2011 on religious values found that the trend may be attributable to the bad economy and more people waiting to get married. There is no such upshot for the nuclear family. Fully 43% of all babies were reported to be born out-of-wedlock and that number skyrocketed to over 50% to babies born to women under 30. Contrary to popular belief these numbers cut across demographic lines. A staggering 72% of black babies were born out-of-wedlock, 53% among Hispanics and 29% among whites. Most noticeable among whites is that babies born to women under 30 hovered just below 50% out-of-wedlock.
In certain areas these trends are even worse. In majority urban areas such as Detroit and Cleveland the number of babies born out-of-wedlock exceeds 80%. In lower-income rural white and Hispanic majority counties the numbers come close to 40%.
Numerous studies, such as the ones cited by Hymowitz, show that marriage can be directly linked to better economic conditions. Similarly, waiting until you are married to have children has the same benefit. This could be attributed to the fact that many married households consolidate in the suburbs instead of major urban areas.
This change has not occurred recently. It has taken the better part of half a century and multiple generations to come to fruition. In Charles Murray’s new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 Murray uses an imaginary majority white town to explain what has happened to not just the white population in this country but also the black and growing Hispanic population.
America has undergone major social and demographic change before. But never at this rate. In 1960 the nuclear family was the linchpin of American culture. Even until the 90’s worries about children born out-of-wedlock were muted. But in the last twenty years those percentages have gone from less than 20% in 1990 to 28% in 2000 to 43% in 2010. Combine this with fewer and fewer Americans getting married and wealthier Americans, predominantly the protectors of the nuclear family, congregating in new suburbs and as Hymowitz states you start to see the beginnings of a caste system based on social and demographic change.
It is hard to place blame on any particular factor or individuals for this change. But nobody is willing to stand up and talk about it. In a piece for Politico yesterday Dough Schoen and Pat Caddell, both former Democratic pollsters, point out how neither the President or Mitt Romney appear ready to address the issue. Identity politics sells in America and more importantly it wins elections. Doing anything to upset the identities of voters that back you would be asking a politician to bite off his hand. They cannot do it.
Yet they must. America must have a serious conversation about this pressing issue. It may be change and there may be those who argue it will benefit America but it will not. Tied to America’s increase in out-of-wedlock births has been an increase in child poverty and poverty overall. In rural and inner city communities this trend has been keenly felt.
America needs leaders willing to discuss and talk about these issues. Individual groups and organizations can change at the local level but they need strong political leadership at the top. Both Obama and Romney have decided, as others have before them, that tackling the issue could be toxic for their presidential bids. But what if coming out and talking about it gives them an advantage.
Both the president and his challenger are family men and Americans respect that. Why cannot one or the other come out and discuss the issue? Politics be damned, America needs to address this issue. If we do not the results could be catastrophic and irreparably damage the face of America for generations to come.