Sadly, we have reached the tipping point: More children are now born to women outside of marriage than in it — at least to women under 30. According to Child Trends, a research group in Washington D.C., in just the past two decades, such births have risen from 34 to 53 percent. The illegitimate has become not only legitimate but also the minority.
At BYU, deploring such trends can seem like preaching to the choir. But, with such attitudes becoming the norm and even popular, perhaps it’s best to look at what this information tells us about society and review information counter to such beliefs.
Despite popular consensus, academic research often supports many traditional values surrounding marriage and family. Yet, these trends continue to rise.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen a growing rejection of traditional morals and beliefs. Social issues have become increasing relativistic.
Last fall, David Brooks, a columnist from the New York Times, commented on a study in which students from across the country were asked open ended questions about ethics and morality. Brooks described the results as “disheartening”: “It’s not so much that these young
Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Students danced around questions, wary of specifically calling anything “right” or “wrong,” and instead opting for more relativistic standards.
This same mentality is evident in societal views of pregnacies outside of marriage. The social stigma no longer exists. This is despite the fact that research has time and time again stated that the best situation for children is within a stable home with two parents. Such children tend to be more successful in life. Does this mean children raised by single parents are doomed to failure? Of course not. We all know people raised by single parents who are highly successful. However, the ideal across the board is for a stable two-parent household.
The birth trend reflects the growing disenchanment with marriage. In a New York Times article about the trend, one mother remarked, “I’d like to do it [marriage], but I just don’t see it happening right now. … Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out anyway.” In reality she’s right; about half of marriages across the U.S. end in divorce. Two-thirds of cohabitating couples divorce by the time their child is 10. Both circumstances reflect the same reality — or at least commonly held reality — that relationships are non-binding.
Marriages can be and often are ended at anytime for any reason. A first marriage is a starter marriage. Kim Kardashian’s wedding only lasted 72 days. It seems as if we’ve abandoned any serious view of a marriage commitment, almost taking our gym memberships more seriously than our marriage commitments.
These issues reflect a growing atomistic individualistic society. We look at the world and its structures in form of what can it do for us rather than what we can do for each other. Marriages dissolve because we as individuals are no longer satisfied, we’ve gone solo. We decide we don’t need the other person unless there are tangible benefits. People and relationships have become burdens rather than essential communal structure.
Families teach us. We learn how to interact even when we don’t get along. We learn that what we reap is what we sow, that structures are not meant to serve us. We learn that coming together we can learn and grow more as a whole as long as we are willing to put in the effort.
For millennia, the family has been a central unit of society for a reason. In “Family and Civilization,” Carle Zimmerman, a historian, argued that the state of society is inextricably tied to the state of the family; as the state of the family deteriorated, so did the state of society.
As we try to counter prevailing societal views, we need to be educated. Statistics and research are on our side. Let’s not shy away from the debate, but rather speak up as informed citizens with logic and reason on our side.
This viewpoint represents the opinion of The Daily Universe editorial board and does not necessarily represent the opinions of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.