One potato, two

A thought provoking article titled “Dan Quayle Was Right” appeared in the April edition of The Atlantic Monthly and is attracting an enormous amount of attention. Written by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the article presents hard data – facts and figures that confirm what the Church has known and taught consistently through the years: the disintegration of the American family has led to widespread suffering for children, increased poverty for women and an overall decline in the expectations for social and economic success for the next generation.

Last summer, the liberal media took obvious pleasure in chastising former Vice President Dan Quayle for his remarks in a speech criticising the role models served up by the television and movie industries. When Mr. Quayle identified the single motherhood of the Murphy Brown character as a particularly poor example for the nation’ s young women, you would have thought from the media reaction that he had vilified a national heroine. Now, surprisingly, a liberal publication is printing the truth, the truth which has been dismissed as irrelevant and laughed at as old fashioned and suppressed because if it were recognized, it might be the beginning of the end for the anything goes, no holds barred, free wheeling society we live in.

The truth is that Dan Quayle was exactly right when he spoke out against single women making a decision to become pregnant and bear a child without bothering to make the commitment demanded by marriage; that the casual rejection of the family and all it represents frays the entire fabric of society, leaving all of our children at greater risk.

Anyone who enjoyed a laugh at Dan Quayle’s expense last summer, might find it considerably more difficult to summon a smile after reading the information presented by Ms. Whitehead.

“Family disruption would be a serious problem even if it affected only individual children and families,” writes Ms. Whitehead. “But its impact is far broader. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to characterize it as a central cause of many of our most vexing social problems.”

Ms. Whitehead condemns the notion that the social experiment many in this country have embraced has had beneficial results. Ms. Whitehead states:

Taken together, the research presents a powerful challenge to the prevailing view of family change as social progress. Not a single one of the assumptions underlying that view can be sustained against the empirical evidence. Single-parent families are not able to do well economically on a mother’s income. In fact, most teeter on the economic brink, and many fall into poverty and welfare dependency. Growing up in a disrupted family does not enrich a child’s life or expand the number of adults committed to the child’s well-being.

In fact, disrupted families threaten the psychological well-being of children and diminish the investment of adult time and money in them. Family diversity in the form of increasing number of single-parent and step-parent families does not strengthen the social fabric. It dramatically weakens and undermines society, placing new burdens on schools, courts, prisons, and the welfare system. These new families are not an improvement on the nuclear family, nor are they even just as good, whether you look at outcomes for children or outcomes for society as a whole. In short, far from representing social progress, family change represents a stunning example of social regress.

Ms. Whitehead quotes sociologist David Popenoe who asserts the desirability of two parent families for children in clear and concise language.

“In three decades of work as a social scientist,” writes Mr. Popenoe, ” I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable to single-parent and stepfamilies.”

Pointing out that “nowhere has family breakup been greeted by a more triumphant rhetoric than in America,” Ms. Whitehead notes that “the results of the experiment [in family life] are coming in, and they are clear…this is the first generation in the nation’s history to do worse psychologically, socially, and economically than its parents. Most poignantly, in survey after survey the children of broken families confess deep longings for an intact family.”

On an optimistic note, Ms. Whitehead concludes that it is not too late to repudiate the irresponsible behaviors which are leading us into chaos. “People learn,” she states, “societies can change, particularly when it becomes apparent that certain behaviors damage the social ecology, threaten the public order, and impose new burdens on core instiutitions.”

It is gratifying that the Church’s message is being echoed by a vice-president and its value for society is being demonstrated by social scientists. We can only hope that America will hear the message and learn to live it.

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