This column was written by Patrick F. Fagan.
Europe (as we have always known it) is dying because they don't love babies enough. America has not yet caught that terminal disease but has its own dangerous variant: We don't love our babies enough to give them all married fathers and mothers.
Out-of-wedlock births are on the rise again. While they inched up microscopically since 1995, they have accelerated in the last two years. This is a major disappointment because it looked like we were holding the line and hoped that maybe, just maybe, we were learning how to reverse the trend. We have succeeded significantly with our teenagers — but not with those over 20.
The latest data: In 2005, 36.8 percent of our children were born out of wedlock, an increase of 1.1 percent over 2004, following a rise of 1.0 percent over 2003. Through much of the 1990s and early 2000s the rate held steady or at least hovered around 33 percent.
The worst news: The rise is greatest among Hispanics at 1.5 percent for 2005, following a rise of 1.4 percent for 2004 — virtually a 3 percent rise in two years, making for a total of 47.9 percent out of wedlock births to Hispanics. At this rate one in every two Hispanic children will be born out of wedlock in 2006, thus locking many out of the American dream.
Other bad news: American Indian out-of-wedlock births are rising too, and, totaling 63.3 percent, are not far behind Blacks. Even Asian-American families, our strongest ethnic group, have experienced an increase, and now 16.5 percent of their children are born out of wedlock.
The "not-as-bad-as-it-could-be" news: The rate increase is lowest among blacks: 0.2 percent for 2005. However their total out-of-wedlock births is now 69.5 percent, inching back towards its 1994 historical high of 70.4 percent.
These results declare that the U.S. citizens continue to build a culture of rejection and isolation from each other, especially in the isolation of children from their fathers and mothers from their husbands, two of the most fundamental relationships in any society, and critical relationships for a strong society. We are getting weaker as a social unit, as a nation: The proportion of American children who reached age 18 living with their biological mother and father in an intact family was roughly 40 percent for the year 2000. The other 60 percent experienced the rejection by their parents of each other sometime during their childhood. This is going to be worse for 2005.
In solely utilitarian terms, this level of rejection results in a significant loss of human and social capital for the whole nation, and is expensive to boot. It will not be possible for us to harness our resources to the full on the world stage, nor on the domestic front, even as we enter a period of history when few doubt we will need all the strength we can muster, especially if we are to lead and not be worn down.
Society runs on the work of at least five major institutions, and all contribute to this breakdown: the family, religion, education, the marketplace, and government. In these results we see that the family clearly fails, for most couples have not loved enough to put their children above their own needs. The churches have failed mightily in their teachings on marriage and the rights of children and in their lack of call to repentance. Schools and educators are at minimum schizophrenic on the issue but in the main, like the rest, see the sexual as something that is all right outside of marriage, just as long as it is not started too early. The media, part of the institution of education, is even worse. The marketplace has its own myriad exploitations of the pleasure that comes with sex. And government has its own schizophrenia with two opposite streams of funding for sex education and services: The set designed to facilitate sex (and hence births) outside of marriage is 12 times higher than the abstinence-till-marriage programs. And the Supreme Court has totally lost its bearings on the sexual: It has ruled it can be whatever we want it to be and in the process severed its moorings in marriage. In its defense of sexual freedoms it has repeatedly left the child and his needs out of the picture. Children need love (that means commitment, staying the course, sacrifice and giving) and parents who can love. But the courts don't think so, the schools don't teach so, the churches look away, the marketplace is indifferent, most parents disagree in practice and government is quite prepared to have us all foot the bill.
Engels, Marx's co-author and his expert on matters familial and social, saw marriage and religion as the two major obstacles to the radical socialist state. Free America has gone a long way towards giving him what he hoped for and what his modern allies still work for. In their "long march through the institutions." it is clear that they have conquered most of the territory of that fundamental institution, marriage.
These data point to the next stage of America's ongoing experiment with freedom: the need to reestablish every child's right to the marriage of his two parents — that societal institutional commitment to the love they need. Of course this is way beyond mere social policy. But Engels' vision was way beyond social policy — and the Founders saw without it. Getting there will take a lot of prayer, and it likely will not be had without prayer and worship, for the data indicate that the main bulwark for family, marriage and the channeling of sexuality is religious practice. Maybe it is time for a debate on the national need not just for fleeting prayer but something more radical, something with staying power, something like repentance (and forgiveness) and learning how to start anew.
Patrick F. Fagan, is the William H.G. FitzGerald Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
By Patrick F. Fagan
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online