This one has me thinking. I hope it gets you thinking, too. If we really want families in America to succeed, what policies should we be setting?
There’s an op-ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor from two law professors who have examined the difference between practices and results in families from “red” (conservative) states and those from “blue” (liberal) states. What they found is that women from blue states are more likely to get a college education, more likely to wait longer before marrying, and more likely to stay married to the men they marry. Women from the red states married sooner, attended college less, and divorced more.
Now here comes the surprise to me: evangelical Protestant teenagers have sex slightly earlier than non-evangelical teens. The difference is slight, but real; Age 16.38 on average for the evangelical teens and 16.52 for non-evangelicals. Evangelical Protestant couples are slightly more likely to divorce than non-evangelical couples, and evangelical mothers are more likely to work full time outside the home than non-evangelical mothers.
The most stressful situation for marriages, according to a Sociologist quoted in the article named Paul Amato, is that where the wife would prefer a traditional homemaker role but has to work outside the home more than she had expected or preferred because the husband is unable to support the family.
The law school professors predict that the differences they describe will get more pronounced as the current recession continues and seems to get worse. The hard times, they say, increase calls for a return to the fixed and traditional family values that keep making the problems worse for families and harder for families to succeed.
But when the greater emphasis on “traditional family values” causes more families to fail, the response is not change, but ever stronger and more emphatic voices advocating the policies that make the problems worse. The result is a depressing cycle of teen pregnancy, divorce, poverty, and ignorance that gets worse, and then gets worse.
The authors advocate three “critical steps” that we need to take to stop the cycle: (1) promote access to contraception, within marriage as well as outside it; (2) develop a greater ability to combine work and family on the one hand (one assumes primarily with child care, transportation, and telecommuting) and to combine family and education on the other; and (3) make sure the next generation stays in school, learns the skills it needs to stay employed, and cultivates values that can adapt to the future. I’m frankly not sure how one causes a nation to cultivate different values, but I get the rest of it.
And those of you who know me well already know the fourth “critical step” I would add. “Success” when I was growing up (I’m 56 as I write this) was all about how much money you made. Success in the generation growing up today will be measured by the extent to which you can be happy while making little or no money. So my fourth critical step would be to focus on helping young people find ways to be happy on little or no money.