Fatherhood Study Stresses Importance of Marriage

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) - A soon to be released study on African American fatherhood reports that healthy marriages are a key factor in reducing crime, poverty, child abuse and a host of other social ills facing the US which, according to census figures, leads the world in fatherless homes with 40 percent of American children living in such households.

The study by the Morehouse Research Institute points out that, although the rate of fatherless homes in America is growing fastest in white America, it has already reached an acute state among African Americans, where more than 70 percent of births occur out-of-wedlock.

Those out-of-wedlock births, plus skyrocketing divorce rates, have left millions of children - black, white, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian - without fathers and robbed them of vital "spiritual, emotional, and material support," reads the Morehouse study.

"Father absence is not a uniquely African American problem," according to the study. "It is an American problem that crosses racial, ethnic, and class lines."

While the complexities of the American family continue to change, as evidenced by coverage of a current case before the Vermont Supreme Court attempting to legalize homosexual marriages, many African Americans are more concerned with the demise of heterosexual marriage and its root causes, either sociological or economic.

Much of that concern is shared by Massachusetts Family Institute President Matt Daniels, who told CNS that, while the debate over legitimizing homosexual marriages rages, the traditional family with a mother and father is undergoing a "kind of holocaust."

"Fatherlessness is the single biggest problem in society today," said Daniels. "And society will eventually collapse if it continues," he added.

As the issue of homosexual marriage assumes a higher profile, so must the issue of traditional marriage advocates said. "For the sake of our children, we in the African American community should be striving to make marriage as strong as it should be," Institute for American Values Affiliate Scholar Enola Aird told CNS.

Aird, along with Institute for American Values President David Blankenhorn, and Morehouse Research Institute Director Dr. Obie Clayton, Jr. drafted the study, which was signed by dozens of African American intellectuals.

Clayton told CNS that, in his opinion, poverty and joblessness among African Americans is the single biggest factor for the huge numbers of fatherless households.

"We need to give African American men the skills to get jobs," said Clayton. "They're not 'dead beat dads' they're just 'dead broke,'" he added.

The Morehouse study left unanswered the question of whether public policy or cultural changes have had the greater impact on African American marriages, saying that in all probability both are equal factors.

"The declining marriage rates among inner-city Black parents is a function not simply of increased economic marginality, or of changing attitudes toward sex and marriage, but of the interaction between the two," said Harvard's William Julius Wilson, who contributed to the report.

The Sexual Revolution's Effect on Marriage

The decline of marriage isn't a recent phenomenon, with some observers arguing that the beginning of the decline reaches back three decades. According to Blankenhorn, the sexual revolution that started in the 1960's dramatically changed the marriage paradigm.

"Changes in cultural values are the big engine in the decline of marriage," Blankenhorn told CNS.

He said that the old system of courtship, where men had to commit to a woman through marriage, "strongly favored the girls." Blankenhorn added that the current system, where sex is more readily available, has "shifted to the boys' point of view and lots of girls have suffered."

The contention that men will not commit to marriage under a societal system that does not require it is echoed by author Wendy Shalit in her new book, A Return To Modesty, which examines how contemporary sexual mores have harmed women.

"In order to court women men must, in some sense, need to court women," she said. "Do people imagine men courted women in the past because they simply found it more fun than casual sex?" asked Shalit.

"No, it was because women's modesty required it," she concluded.