With so much of the focus on the same-sex marriage debate, we American Christians sometimes forget the “other” marriage problem. Namely, there are fewer and fewer weddings in many segments of the population. And the impact is devastating.
First, the good news: college-educated men and women have strong, stable marriages for the most part. Divorce rates continue to drop, and children from these marraiges usually grow up with both a mom and a dad. That gives these kids a big boost in terms of their faith, finances, life success, and health.
However, as W. Bradford Wilcox points out in a piece on First Things, there’s a deep marriage divide in America when you start digging into the numbers:
“But the bad news, as I noted in a report called When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America, is that marriage is now in trouble not just among the poor but among a broad swath of working-class and lower middle-class Americans, a group I call ‘Middle Americans.’ I described it this way to the bishops in New Orleans: “the retreat from marriage is now spreading into the bedrock of Middle America: that is, small towns, rural communities, and outer suburbs across America. From Danville, Virginia, to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Hillsboro, Ohio, divorce is high and nonmarital childbearing is on the rise.” In other words, outside of the privileged precincts of upscale inner suburbs and affluent urban neighborhoods, marriage is losing ground.
“These trends are particularly important because they impact the quality and stability of children’s family lives, as the figure below indicates. Today, children from moderately (high-school/some-college educated) and the least educated (high-school dropout) homes are much less likely to grow up with both parents, compared to children from highly educated (college-educated) homes.”
So, why is this happening? Why are “middle Americans” more likely to have children out of wedlock and not to marry? Wilcox points to three potential factors:
Economy: Men without college educations and a stable income are less likely to get married and stay married.
Culture: Americans who didn’t go to college often have a weaker “marriage mindset.”
Declining Civil Society: More and more Americans are detached from community, especially church community. Strong marriages depend upon community support.
While American society in general seems to think that any type of home situation is fine, the research paints a very different picture. The lack of a married father and mother means a difficult road for the child:
“It matters because these children are now doubly disadvantaged. Not only do they have fewer economic resources, they also are less likely to benefit from the shelter, security, and stability typically afforded by an intact, married family.
Wilcox offers three ways that churches can help bridge the marriage divide and stave off the downward moral spiral in our society:
1) Social Impact
The church needs to push for increased child tax credits and to end the “marriage penalties” in many policies directed toward low-income families.
2) Teaching and Support
Church leaders must speak more clearly about biblical marriage and also support “couples in crisis.” Marriages need community to thrive.
Ministries must do a better job reaching out to the unemployed and underemployed—and to men in general. There should be a focus on young people who aren’t going to college.
In a recent video from Christianity.com, Mary Kassian of Girls Gone Wise explains why the biblical view of marriage is so important.
What do you think? How can churches do a better job bridging the marriage divide and show what marriage is supposed to be?