Anybody remember the NBC TV show, Heroes, that ran from 2006 through 2010? Its tag line was the cryptic, “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” As I’ve tried to quantify legislation according to the measures of the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), that mysterious imperative has come to mind, only it’s not a cheerleader who must be saved, but marriage. Public policies will generally have an effect on more than one marker of family and societal decline, but those that affect marriage touch on most of them, from employment to children in poverty to ex-cons’ recidivism to drug use and on and on.
We tend to lose sight of the central place of this institution when we get caught up in the fashionable culture-war issues of the day, but we all know it to be true. That knowledge is the underlying reason for the often observed hypocrisy of well-to-do progressives, who tend to have the traditional families that they don’t appear to recommend for anybody else.
Such a do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do approach to social policy ought to be shown for the lunacy that it is. As Glenn Stanton writes for The Federalist:
A consistent and irrefutable mountain of research has shown, reaching back to the 1970s and beyond, that marriage strongly boosts every important measure of well-being for children, women, and men. Pick any measure you can imagine: overall physical and mental health, income, savings, employment, educational success, general life contentment and happiness, sexual satisfaction, even recovery from serious disease, healthy diet and exercise. Married people rate markedly and consistently better in each of these, and so many more, compared to their single, divorced, and cohabiting peers. Thus, marriage is an essential active ingredient in improving one’s overall life prospects, regardless of class, race, or educational status.
The challenge in proclaiming this reality — which will manifestly help our society’s most vulnerable members most of all — is that the radicals who control the popular narrative have focused their influence in order to spin us into divisive grievance clashes. Consider how this paragraph from Stanton might read to your average college student (assuming his or her college didn’t successfully hide it from students’ tender eyes):
Marriage generates wealth largely because marriage molds men into producers, providers, and savers. Singleness and cohabiting don’t. Nobel-winning economist George Akerlof, in a prominent lecture more than a decade ago, explained the pro-social and market influence of marriage upon men and fathers: “Married men are more attached to the labor force, they have less substance abuse, they commit less crime, are less likely to become the victims of crime, have better health, and are less accident prone.”
Now, we can have fruitful debates about the importance of Stanton’s using the adverb “largely” in that first sentence (while staying clear of the radical feminists’ insinuation that women are better off without men). The room for real and healthy social evolution, however, doesn’t erase the reality that some mutations lead to extinction, and Western social policy of the past half-century has been drifting frighteningly in that direction.