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Is America leading the world in ‘child neglect’?

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Americans are more accustomed than they should be to hearing that their country is leading the world in this category or that cultural development. And they tend to just assume that whatever the subject or category is, it is a positive development. After all, it’s America!

This tendency to narcissistic self-regard has never been one of America’s more attractive traits, and it has served to blind Americans to serious problems bringing serious, perhaps catastrophic harm to its people.

Melissa Kearney, an MIT-trained economist, has authored a blockbuster new book, The Two-Parent Privilege. How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind.

The book’s dust jacket asserts that Kearney “makes a provocative, data-driven case for marriage by showing how the institution’s decline has led to a host of economic woes — problems that have fractured American society and rendered vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.”

Kearney does indeed make her case succinctly and convincingly. Americans are unique in the degree to which we condemn our children to being raised in single-parent (almost exclusively mothers) homes. Pew Research conducted a study in 2015 covering 130 countries which shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households, and the gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is vast and cavernous.

Approximately one out of four (23%) of American children under 18 years of age is living in a single-parent home. Worldwide, the percentage of children living in such circumstances averages 7%. In contrast to America, in China (3%), Nigeria (4%), and India (5%), the percentage is drastically lower. In Canada, the percentage is 5%. Adding to the dilemma, the Pew study revealed that U.S. children “from Christian and religiously unaffiliated families” were “about equally likely to live in this type of arrangement.”

Kearney’s message is powerfully argued and economically it is impeccable. As a result of the sexual revolution and the cultural elite’s implacable determination to never criticize that revolution’s consequences on the culture — and especially on its most vulnerable victims, the children — the elites remain mute.

The evidence for this willful blindness is massively evident. Kearney writes that “the absence of a father from a child’s home appears to have direct effects on children’s outcomes — and not only because of the loss of parental income” and that for the social and economic well-being of children, America needs to “restore and foster a norm of two-parent homes for children.”

The evidence is overwhelming that Kearney is correct, but her message is hardly new or unique. The late, great Daniel Patrick Moynihan led the way in saying much the same thing in his groundbreaking report on the black family (The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, commonly known as The Moynihan Report).

George Gilder emphasized the critical importance of the nuclear family in Sexual Suicide (1973) and Men and Marriage (1986). Charles Murray, Losing Ground (1984) and Coming Apart (2012) plowed some of the same ground.

Among others, Linda Waite and Maggie Gullager in The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially (2001) make the same case, pointing out the powerful evidence that long-term, stable marriage is good for children and their parents.

I even attempted to make the case myself in Imagine! A God-Blessed America. How It Could Happen and What It Would Look Like (2003). In that year, I reported on the groundbreaking study, a Report to the Nation from the Commission on Children at Risk, titled Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, sponsored by YMCA of the USA, Dartmouth Medical School, and the Institute for American Values. 

The Commission warned that one in five children in America was at serious risk for emotional and physiological problems because of a “connection crisis.”

In other words, the hard evidence continues to mount that failing to provide children with stable, close familial and community relationships to provide moral and spiritual meaning harms children’s biological and emotional development is extremely detrimental. And the evidence has been accumulating for over a generation that this is so. With such large numbers of our children being denied that two-parent family environment, as a society we are practicing collective emotional and spiritual child abuse of an entire generation of American children.

The evidence of the damage to our children is there. It has been there for over a generation. And yet, our cultural elites continue to either ignore the evidence or to disconnect it as mere conservative propaganda.

America’s future will in large part depend on whether we revalue marriage, parenting, and child-rearing at the expense of the self-destructive and false search for meaning and self-fulfillment in sexual self-gratification. Our nation’s children await our answer.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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