Society thrives when families stick together, according to several speakers at the second annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection news conference held Thursday. The event was hosted by the Family Research Council in Washington, DC.
The index is produced annually by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MRRI) and looks at the health of society by measuring the proportion of children who grow up in intact married families. The conference spotlighted the benefits that a strong, foundational marriage has on the lives of America’s youth, and in return, on the well-being of society in general.
Speakers at this event included: Dr. Pat Fagan, director of MRRI; Dr. David Armor, professor at George Mason University; Dr. Nick Zill of the MRRI; and Pat Ware, former director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. All speakers discussed the Belonging and Rejection index in relation to issues of poverty, education, and teenage out of wedlock births.
According to Fagan, only 45 percent of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood with an intact family, which constitutes the biological parents legally married to each other since the time of the child’s birth. Meanwhile, 55 percent of teenagers live in families where their biological parents have rejected each other. Rejection is defined by the report as “parents who reject one another through divorce or others.”
Among ethnic groups, Asians have the highest percent of family intactness with 62 percent, followed by whites. An African American child is the least likely to grow up in a home with both parents – only 17.4 percent of black families are intact.
However, ethnicity by itself is not the root of the problem as some states have a low percentage of African Americans and still have a low percentage of family intactness. Likewise, presidential politics are not to blame, says Zill. For example, Minnesota is a blue state and North Dakota is a red state yet they both rank high on the family intactness scale.
Rather, much of the answer of the disparity among states in regards to family intactness lies with the geographical regions. In general, the southern region fares the worse with only 41 percent of families belonging. The Northeast fares the best with 50.4 percent of families belonging.
Zill credits history for the disparity. The Northeast region was settled by a largely homogenous population that had very few slaves, was very literate, and was highly skilled. In contrast, the South was predominately male, practiced slavery, had a low literacy rate, and was highly stratified.
Despite all the modern changes, Zill says the regions still have not escaped their past and that whichever groups settled in the region continues to have a strong impact on the familial societies there today. However as a whole, according to the MRRI, the family structure in the country is on the slope toward rejection as more and more parents are separating.
“Where there is conflict between the parents, the kids pay,” said Fagan, “and as a result, society pays.”
According to the MRRI, there are five basic institutions that contribute to society: family, the church, school, the government, and the market. The more a mother and father master these institutions and provide instruction for their children to do the same, the more society benefits. Not surprisingly, according to Fagan, two-parent households provide the best environment for more instruction and nurturing in the child’s life. However, none of the other four institutions “hold a candle to” the impact the family has on a child’s life. Children who “don’t belong,” or in other words grow up in a broken family, have less capacity to give back to society than do children who do belong.
“The decrease of strong families in the United States has major implications for the nation, and by extension, the rest of the world,” the MRRI report states.
“A nation is only as strong as its citizens, and a lack of strong families weakens human, social, and moral capital, which in turn directly affects the financial (and thus indirectly the military and foreign policy strength) of the United States. A great nation depends on great families, but weak families will build a weak nation.”