Jerry Springer, television’s pestiferous purveyor of raunch, recently joked – we think – that he’s the “father of the destruction of Western civilization.”
We don’t know if either part is true: that Western civilization is being destroyed, or that Springer is the cause.
But the trends are troubling.
Institutions that have given form to Western society for centuries – marriage, family, church – have eroded sharply in the past half-century, and have undergone dramatic change in just the past few years. Some of the nation’s most vexing social ills – poverty, crime, educational underachievement and more – often have their roots in the
waning of those institutions.
What we used to call illegitimacy accounts for much of it. And it’s skyrocketing, currently at 41 percent. Someday soon, half of all children may be born out of wedlock. And the marriage rate of 51 percent indicates married people may soon be the new minority.
Says a study by the University of Virginia’s Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox: “Children born to unmarried mothers are significantly more likely than children born to married parents to suffer from poverty, physical and sexual abuse and neglect, psychological problems such as depression, delinquency and criminal activity, and educational failure. ...
“Dr. George Akerlof, a Nobel-prize-winning economist at the University of California-Berkeley, is particularly perceptive in this regard. In two different studies, he argues that the sexual revolution – aided in part by widespread contraception – fueled a dramatic increase in premarital sex, and reduced the normative imperative that men should take responsibility for the children they help bring into the world by marrying; these two developments, in turn, led to dramatic increases in non-marital childbearing. From this research, Dr. Akerlof concludes that the sexual revolution played an important role in the nation’s retreat from marriage over the last four decades, and is indirectly responsible for the social consequences of that retreat. ...
“The bottom line is this: the erosion of the norm of premarital sexual abstinence, both in belief and behavior, appears to have played an important role in the weakening of American family life and, in turn, some of the nation’s most pressing social problems.”
The thing is, rather than confront such problems, our society has celebrated them. Marriage and premarital abstinence have been ridiculed and marginalized, while contraceptives have become a civil right and single motherhood has been beatified.
The Oxygen network recently canceled plans for a reality show called All My Babies’ Mamas – about a man who has 11 children with 10 different women – perhaps only because of a conservative outcry against it.
In last year’s election, a campaign video showed how a fictional, apparently single mother named Julia would have a great life with cradle-to-grave government nurturing.
“It was a strange presentation on the good life – one that is, I would say, foreign to traditional American culture,” says Scott Phelps, executive director of the national Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, who spoke in Columbia County last week on behalf of the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center.
In short, traditional American culture doesn’t fare well anymore. And we are headed into largely uncharted waters societally.
Phelps and his organization, which provides marriage and family curricula to parents and schools in all 50 states, believes objective facts are on the side of traditional American beliefs. Social science research, he says, demonstrates that people who are married live longer, are healthier, earn more, and report more happiness and satisfaction with their lives.
And a University of Michigan study, he notes,
indicates 90 percent of youths think a good marriage and family are very important to their
But that’s hardly what they’re seeing, often at home and certainly not in the media. Not on Jerry Springer, anyway.
One young woman told Phelps a few years ago that she’d never thought of being abstinent before marriage, but that the thought appealed to her.
That, and other healthy behaviors, might appeal to a whole bunch of American kids. But they’ve got to be exposed to it – somewhere.