Can We Afford Family Breakdown?
Warnings of Drastic Social and Economic Consequences
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By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, MAY 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The disintegration of family life is costing taxpayers a bundle. A report released in April put the cost at an annual $112 billion, just in the United States alone.
“The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All 50 States,” was released by four policy and research groups -- Institute for American Values, Georgia Family Council, Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest.
“This study documents for the first time that divorce and unwed childbearing -- besides being bad for children -- are also costing taxpayers a ton of money,” said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, in a press release accompanying the report.
Marriage is more than a moral or social institution, the study itself observes. It is an economic institution, and when it breaks down the costs for local, state and federal government are very high.
The report points to a yearly $112 billion price tag -- or over $1 trillion in the past decade -- which the authors say is a minimum estimate. The federal government carries the largest burden, $70.1 billion, followed by $33.3 billion for states, and $8.5 billion at the local level.
These costs arise from a variety of sources: increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty programs; criminal justice and education programs; and lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.
The study argues that government support for marriage and the family would be sound economic policy. Just reducing the divorce rate by a small amount could save billions of dollars a year.
Some states are waking up to this and the report cites the example of Texas, which recently appropriated $15 million over two years for marriage education and other programs. The study reports that if this brings about even a less than a 1% decrease in family breakdowns, it will it will be cost-effective for Texas taxpayers.
The study provides an overview of the huge changes in family life over the last few decades.
-- Between 1970 and 2005, the proportion of children living with two married parents dropped from 85% to 68%.
-- More than a third of all U.S. children are now born outside of wedlock, including 25% of non-Hispanic white babies, 46% of Hispanic babies, and 69% of African American babies.
-- In 2004, almost 1.5 million babies were born to unmarried mothers.
-- There has been a small decline in divorce after 1980, however this seems to have been offset by increases in unwed childbearing, so the percentage of children living with one parent increased steadily between 1970 and 1998, with only a small drop after 1998.
The report admits that a crucial issue is to verify to what extent there is a causal relationship between family fragmentation and the economic costs to government.
The authors go on to lay out the evidence from a variety of sources to prove their case. There is ample documentation, they observe, that divorce contributes to child poverty.
Analysis suggests that almost all of the increase in poverty observed among divorced mothers is caused by the divorce, the report says, citing a recent study.
The effects on children of divorce or being brought up by single parents are also well researched. The study cites academic research where it is established how being in this situation leads to higher crime rates and problems of delinquency.
Evidence from other countries backs up the United States report. In England between 1991 and 1997, the average decline in a mother's income was 30% after splitting up, reported a study published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University.
In its March 5 report on the study, the Guardian newspaper noted that in more recent years the decline has substantially lessened. Between 1998 and 2004, the drop in income was only 12%.
Nevertheless, the researchers attributed part of this improvement to increased levels of financial support from the state.
Broken homes also created problems for schools, reported the UK Telegraph newspaper March 19. The decline of the traditional family is creating a “toxic circle” of school failure, poverty and crime, according to the 160,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
The Telegraph noted that these worries came just as official figures show the number of single parents in Britain has increased by 250,000 to almost 2 million over the past decade.
Another consequence for children is poorer mental health for children in the midst of family breakdowns. On April 24 the London-based Times newspaper reported that according to a study commissioned by the Children’s Society, more than a quarter of young people under 16 regularly feel depressed because of the stresses of family life, friendships and school.
Thousands of children took part in the study and family breakdown was a problem for many of them.
Europe is also suffering great changes in family life, as a recent study published by the news agency Fides, a Vatican missionary agency, pointed out. In a dossier titled “The Crisis of the Family in Europe” the agency put together information from a number of studies and organizations.
Europe’s population will soon start to decline and is already aging rapidly, Fides warned. Every 25 seconds there is an abortion in the 27 member countries of the European Union, the report said, while at the same time 3 schools a day are closed due to a scarcity of children.
Both men and women are postponing marriage, and in 2005, just under 1.9 million babies were born out of wedlock. In some countries around half of all births are either due to single mothers or cohabitating couples. The number of divorces continues to increase, with millions of children being affected.
In the midst of these trends Fides also pointed out that out of the 27% of gross national product that Europe spends on social welfare, only a very small part goes to support families, which apparently are not considered a priority.
In fact, the report states, “European institutions and legislation regard the family as a historical legacy, rather than an institution which can belong to the future.”
Therefore, it continued, governments are not actively supporting the family based on a stable marriage between and a man and a woman and are instead encouraging various forms of cohabitation.
There are also moves to allow adoption of children to singles, instead of married couples, as well as allowing adoption for de facto and same-sex couples.
Benedict XVI, well aware of the dire situation of the family, has often spoken out asking public authorities to support marriage. Respect for the family based on marriage is "imperative" the Pope said Jan. 10 when addressing local government representatives from Rome and the surrounding region of Lazio.
"Unfortunately, we see every day how insistent and threatening are the attacks on marriage and the misunderstandings of this fundamental human and social reality," the Pope commented.
"Thus, it is especially necessary that public administrations do not support these negative trends but, on the contrary, offer families convinced and concrete support, in the certainty that they are thereby acting for the common good," he concluded.
Then just last Friday the Pope commented that many families are crying out for help from civil authorities. Benedict XVI made his remarks on the family during an audience held for representatives from the Forum of Family Associations and the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations, who were in Rome for a conference.
"Accordingly, there is an increasingly urgent need for a common commitment to support families by every means available, from the social and economic point of view, as well as the juridical and spiritual," the Pontiff said.
The Holy Father singled out for praise the initiative to mobilize people in support of family-friendly fiscal policy. An initiative sorely needed in many countries around the world.