It’s not enough that they want to upend the modern workplace. Now the millennials are out to upend marriage as well. Wedding planners and finger-wagging moralists are beside themselves. But maybe the kids are on to something – as long as it doesn’t go too far.
An April 2014 Urban Institute study predicts that if current marriage rates do not rebound, just 69 percent of Millennial women (and 65 percent of men) will marry by the age of 40. By contrast, in 1990, 91 percent of U.S.-born women had married by the age of 40.
Almost none of this retreat from marriage will be felt among college-educated white Americans. The majority of college-educated Millennials will marry and have their children in marriages that last until the death of one partner.
Meanwhile, the average American lives in a world where sex is plentiful but stable families are not, leading many a Millennial to conclude that there is little point in marriage at all. You can’t fail at what you don’t attempt.
#ad#Into this explosive disruption of the time-tested path to opportunity for America’s next generation comes a new marriage debate: Are evangelicals bad for marriage?
A few years ago, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn launched the concept of “red families” and “blue families.” The emergent secular blue-family model embraces contraception, abortion, premarital sex, and cohabitation as strategies to help young men and women delay marriage and childbirth while they pursue college diplomas and graduate degrees. These fortunate blues, however, eventually settle down and raise their 1.7 children in stable, affluent marriages. It is the way Yale and Harvard live now.
Red families in Carbone and Cahn’s model are religious traditionalists who continue to try to link not only children and marriage but also sex and marriage. The red-family model abhors abortion, embraces abstinence education, worries about pushing contraception for unmarried teens (at least), and discourages divorce.
The blue-family model, Carbone and Cahn argue, is more successful at protecting marriage.
In the January issue of the American Journal of Sociology, Jennifer Glass and Phillip Levchak pick up on Carbone and Cahn’s new models to investigate empirically why divorce rates are higher in red states than in blue states. Conservative Protestant family values, they conclude, are bad for marriage:
The major pathway linking religious conservatism and divorce is the early cessation of education in favor of marriage and childbearing. Early childbearing among couples with relatively low levels of education, coupled with low rates of maternal employment, leads to ﬁnancial difﬁculties that can seriously strain marital relationships. . . . The effects of large concentrations of conservative Protestants on aggregate divorce rates do not simply reﬂect the higher divorce risk of conservative Protestants themselves.
Moreover, conservative family values spill over to hurt non-conservatives: “The community norms and institutions structuring marriage and fertility that stem from the beliefs of conservative Protestants affect all youths irrespective of their personal religious afﬁliation, increasing divorce risk among all those in that environment,” Glass and Levchak conclude.
The unique culture created by conservative Protestant family values undermines marriage, or at least marital stability, by encouraging early family formation, less education, and more divorce.
Score one for the blue family.
Of course, as others have pointed out, Glass and Levchak’s study does not measure the effect of religious practice, only the effect of religious affiliation. When both spouses practice their faith together, it reduces the risk of divorce, even for those who form early marriages. Using Add-Health data, Charles E. Stokes, Amber Lapp, and David Lapp looked at divorce risk among religiously affiliated people who marry “early” (ages 18 to 26) and found that for both conservative Protestants and Catholics, church attendance (but not affiliation) dramatically reduces divorce. A little bit of religion hurts your marriage, they conclude, but a strong faith practice helps.
Glass and Levchak acknowledge that the connection between conservative Protestantism and divorce risk reverses in counties that are dominated by conservative Protestants (where they are two-thirds or more of the residents); they suggest that this preponderance of Protestants reduces the risk that conservative Protestant women will marry outside their faith (a particularly divorce-prone pairing).
#page#But I think their data are pointing as well to another truth: If you are going to use a family strategy that depends on norms pointing sexual desire towards marriage, then you need strong communities that share those norms to sustain it. Nominal labels (if you are Protestant in name only) and individual values won’t suffice to sustain red families. This dispute over communal norms is the heart of the old culture war.
Moreover, Glass and Levchak’s data show that the most secular part of society, the religiously unaffiliated, faces divorce risks at least as large as those faced by nominal conservative Protestants. If religious values are destroying marriage, why are the least religious so vulnerable? Why are Catholics and Mormons categorized with mainline Protestants in this study while “religious conservatism” is confined to conservative Protestants?
#ad#I think there are many things religious communities can learn from Glass and Levchak’s groundbreaking work. If it is true that the greater part of conservative Protestants’ divorce risk is a result of Protestants’ leaving school when they form families at a young age, then a renewed emphasis on higher education in evangelical circles could help. Pastors might emphasize that’s it’s beneficial to marry within the faith, or at least note the high risks that come when conservative Protestant women are yoked to men who do not share their values. Then, too, here’s a thought: Conservative Protestant family values might reduce the rate of divorce if pastors did more to discourage divorce, using scriptural values.
But here’s another thought, for the wider American society, red and blue: If the less-educated non-practicing Millennials are doing the worst of all, perhaps we should work harder to avoid all-out culture war and look instead for ways red families and blue families can cooperate to strengthen family relationships for the common good, where possible.
There are not two family models in the United States, there are at least three: 1) the red-family model in which religious conservatives of all denominations seek to sustain theologically driven models connecting sex, love, marriage, and babies; 2) the secular blue-family model, which continues to connect marriage and childbearing on mostly practical grounds but embraces sexual freedom in theory and abortion in practice; and 3) the increasingly popular “detached” family model, in which young people engage in intermittent sexual dramas with no obvious end point. Women end up not only bowling alone but raising children alone.
In this last model, women have families. Men have porn, beer, and video games, a lifestyle that can be sustained by a part-time minimum-wage job, plus a room in your divorced mom’s basement.
Here Carbone and Cahn’s latest book, Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family, might help. Coming up with solutions to the collapse of wages among the less educated, especially less-educated men, might point us to a policy that red and blue families who care about marriage could both support.
— Maggie Gallagher is a fellow at the American Principles Project. You can read her work at MaggieGallagher.com.
Innovative Partnership to Help Organizations and Communities Teach At-Risk Teens and Young Adults How to Create Healthy Relationships for the Sake of Children. Germantown, MD (PRWEB) July 24, 2014 National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), the nation’s leading provider of fatherhood skill-building materials and training, has formed an innovative partnership with The Dibble Institute to offer two programs that will be implemented by community-based organizations across the nation, Relationships Smarts PLUS and Love Notes. The programs help at-risk teens and young adults who are and are not parents learn how to create healthy relationships—and ultimately—healthy families. Organizations will use Relationships Smarts PLUS to teach teens and young adults how to make wise decisions about relationships, sex, dating, and pregnancy prevention, thus laying the foundation for them to be effective parents when the time is right, and not before. For teens and young adults who are parents, organizations will use Love Notes to help this population with one of its greatest challenges to effective parenting—lack of relationship skills between parents—and to make wise choices (e.g. planned pregnancies) that are also critical challenges they face and essential to building a strong family now and for the future. Relationships Smarts PLUS is listed on The National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), and Loves Notes (an adaptation of Relationships Smarts PLUS) is currently part of a rigorous evaluation as a pregnancy prevention strategy for at-risk youth, funded by a Tier II grant from the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. Love Notes has also been shown to be effective as part of a rigorous evaluation in which males comprised nearly 70 percent of both intervention and control groups. NFI president Christopher A. Brown says, “These two new offerings from NFI will help organizations that work with teens and young adults—whether parents or future parents, dads or moms—equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to develop healthy relationships now and in the future and, ultimately, to be the parents their children need or will need them to be.” About this innovative partnership, Brown says, “We know that there has been a lack of quality programs for teen and young adult dads because our customers have asked for such programs for many years. We could have created our own programs, but after conducting research into the salient issues facing this population—and whether such programs already exist that have been shown through evaluations to be effective with males—we discovered the two Dibble programs which center on healthy relationships. And with that being perhaps the most salient of the issues, it was a no-brainer to make these two programs a part of our offerings. They allow organizations to work with teen and young adult dads separately or couples together, and NFI to continue expansion of our resources for moms focused on improving the relationships between dads and moms for the sake of children.” For 20 years, NFI has worked to end father absence by creating healthy families across the nation. These two new offerings are one of the many ways NFI continues working to help organizations and communities better serve young families through involved, responsible, and committed fathers. As the premier fatherhood renewal organization in the country, NFI, founded in 1994, works in every sector and at every level of society to “create a world where every child has a 24/7 Dad®.” NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources in the nation. Since 2004, through FatherSOURCE™, its national resource center, NFI has distributed over 6.7 million resources, and has trained over 13,700 practitioners from over 6,300 organizations on how to deliver programs to dads. NFI is also the most quoted authority on fatherhood in America. Since 2009, NFI has been mentioned in nearly 4,000 news stories, and makes regular appearances in national media to discuss the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. Learn more at http://www.fatherhood.org/rel-smarts and http://www.fatherhood.org/love-notes
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