Ethics & Religion
August 10, 2016
Children Are Hurt
by Marriage Failure
By Mike McManus
We all know that half of America's marriages fail - and have for
decades. What's less well known is that America's marriage rate has
plunged in half and unwed births soared 8-fold.
Who is most wounded by divorce and non-marriage? Children - innocent
victims of their parents' selfishness. Only 46% of American kids are
being raised by their married parents, reports Patrick Fagan of the
Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI).
More than half of America's kids are hurt and confused by their own
parents! They give children the one event that is disastrously
This is not news. According to an eight decade study begun in 1921 by
Dr. Lewis Terman, children of divorced parents are 44% more apt to die
early, a lifespan shortened by an average of 4.5 years.
Terman said parental divorce - not parental death - is the risk. "In
fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social
predictor of early death, many years into the future."
For example, children of divorce are more likely to contract cancer of
the digestive tract, pancreas, lungs and cervix - than children reared
by their married parents.
In addition, children from divorced families have more emotional and
behavioral problems, negative feelings and less psychological well-being
than those from intact families. Upon the divorce of their parents,
children experience a wide range of emotional reactions such as sadness,
anger, loneliness and depression (which frequently lasts into
adulthood), heightened anxiety, worry, lower life satisfaction, lower
self-esteem and self-confidence.
David Popenoe of the National Survey of Children reports that parental
divorce sparks such mental health problems in their children as
depression, withdrawal from friends and family, aggressive, impulsive or
hyperactive behavior. They either behave disruptively or withdraw from
participation in the classroom. They may also develop mood disorders,
bipolar/disorder, mild chronic depression and post-traumatic stress
When children experience parental divorce before age five, they are
particularly vulnerable to emotional conflicts when their parents
separate, reports MARRI's Fagan. They will frequently cling to their
parents and "regress" to bedwetting and other behaviors more
characteristic of younger children.
Older children, rather than clinging, frequently withdraw from home life
and seek intimacy elsewhere. If the divorce occurs while the children
ate teenagers, they tend to react in one of two ways. Either they
attempt to avoid growing up or to "speed through" adolescence. Early
sexual activity, substance abuse or dependence, hostile behavior and
depression are all more likely to occur after divorce.
One tragic result is the soaring percentage of children born to
unmarried parents. The U.S. unwed birth rate was only 5% in 1960, but
jumped 8-fold to 40%. That figure is 20 times the 2% unwed birth rate of
America's high unwed birth and divorce rate is having a devastating
impact on the academic achievement of our kids. For example, Japanese
children academically outperform U.S. kids. Compared to children from 31
countries on international math tests, U.S. kids scored at the bottom,
31st vs. 8th for Japan. Japanese kids were #3 in science vs. #24 for
U.S. In reading, Japanese kids were third best, and Americans, 21st.
Other Asian countries, with low unwed birth rates and divorces all
scored as good as or better than Japan.
U.S. children of divorce and non-marriage are three times more likely to
be expelled from school or to have a child as a teenager as are children
from intact homes, are five times more apt to live in poverty, six times
more likely to commit suicide and twelve times more likely to be
incarcerated, reports a Heritage study by Patrick Fagan and Robert
However, statistics blur the eyes. Behind them are kids who are
vulnerable and confused.
These tragic results should prompt America's pastors to make a new
commitment to strengthening marriage. Marriages have plunged 57% since
1970. There were actually more marriages in 1970 than in 2015! If the
same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970 - there'd be 1.3
million more marriages a year! Never-married Americans nearly quintupled
from 8.7 million to 41.3 million.
These trends are not healthy for adults. Divorced men live 10 years less
than married men, and divorced women, four years less. More importantly,
non-marriage or divorce is devastating to America's children.
How can marriage be re-established? The nation's pastors, priests and
rabbis should take on promoting of marriage as a high priority.
America's faith leaders care about marriage, but have sat on the
sidelines as God's first institution has deteriorated.
It's time for pastors to pastor.
Copyright (c) 2016 Michel J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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