Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Detroit’s single families define the real State of the City

Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer delivered an inspiring State of the City address this week. To illustrate the city’s progress, he recited the words to a song: “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now ... we’re on the move.” However, in the shadow of the new monuments being erected — casinos, ball parks, the Campus Martius development project — family disintegration continues to threaten the well-being of city residents.

    The extent of this problem was confirmed in a recent study by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. Comparing statistics for its Kids Count report, the organization reported that Detroit ranks No.1 in unmarried births among the nation’s 50 largest cities. Of the 16,729 babies born in Detroit in 1997, 13,574 were black, 1,679 were white and 817 were Hispanic. Seventy-one percent were born to unmarried mothers. This compared with a state average of 33 percent and a 50-city average of 43 percent.

    Government statistics reveal that the percentage of all babies born to unwed mothers nationally rose to 32 percent in 1997 from only 5.3 percent in 1960. Among blacks nationally, 69 percent of births were to unwed mothers. And in a departure from previous increases in births to unwed teen mothers, 70 percent of births to single mothers involved women 20 or older.

    The survey data notes that in 1960, 9 percent of children lived in a single-parent household — usually headed by the mother. By 1998, 28 percent of all children and 55 percent of black children lived with a single parent.

    This “substantial weakening of the institution of marriage” is also part of a national trend identified in a report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. It found that the marriage rate fell from about 73 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15 and up in 1960 to about 49 per 1,000 in 1996, the latest available figures. This rate is the lowest recorded since the turn of the previous century. And many black women are giving birth and raising children without ever taking marriage vows.

    From another perspective, a survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that the traditional nuclear family — a married couple with children — accounted for only 26 percent of households in 1998, down from 45 percent in 1972.

    The causes of plummeting marriage rates, particularly in the last four decades, are many and varied. Researchers note the social acceptance of sex outside marriage; more working women who have less economic reliance on a husband, and a popular culture that often mocks the institution of marriage. There appears to be no hard data, however, indicating why births to unwed mothers are so much more prevalent among black Americans.

    Single parenthood should not be viewed with indifference. Indeed, the number of single moms poses serious social and public-policy dilemmas. It has been well documented and reported, for example, that children born to unmarried women are far more likely to live in poverty, suffer abuse and be neglected. Girls born into these families are more likely to become pregnant than children living with their married parents and continue the generational cycle of unwed motherhood.

    Children from low-income, fatherless households are also more likely to become school dropouts. Children in these families tend to be lower achievers than those from two-parent, higher-income families. These trends generally exist even when a stepfather is present.

    Studies also have concluded that children growing up without their biological father are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, commit suicide, engage in crime and be incarcerated.

    Mayor Archer acknowledged that the number of reported crimes in Detroit is falling. That’s true. The Detroit crime rate, though, remains at or near the top of the 10 largest American cities. And cities reporting the highest incidence of crime also have the highest percentages of single-parent households. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to find a society effectively rearing the next generation with a preponderance of fatherless homes. The prison population reflects this observation.

    Whether the mayor can influence this issue is an open question. Arguably, the problem is beyond his control.

    A few weeks ago, Kay S. Hymowitz, noted author and Manhattan Institute researcher, was a guest on WCHB’s Inside Detroit radio program. I asked her to give an overview of the future of urban America. She observed that the prospects were bleak until and unless society can break the cycle of single mothers having babies. “Where do you begin?” I queried. Hymowitz didn’t have an answer.

    That might explain why Mayor Dennis Archer and other community leaders prefer to define progress in the city in terms of bricks and mortar rather than its worrisome human dimension.

Bill Johnson is a Detroit News editorial writer. His column is published on Friday. Write to him at 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48226. His fax number is (313) 222-6417, and his e-mail address is letters@detnews.com

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