FAREWELL TO THE FAMILY?
Public Policy and Breakdown in Britain and the U.S.A.
By Patricia Morgan, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 194 pages; softcover; US$9
(Available in North America from Laissez Faire Books, 202-938 Howard St., San Francisco,
The decay of the Canadian family, manifest in our high divorce rate and
sky-rocketing proportion of births to unmarried mothers (now almost 30% overall and 50% in
Quebec), is a major concern. In this book, sociologist Patricia Morgan pulls together
'The more the state accommodates
a client group, the less that
government feels able to refuse
and the more fearful it is of creating
offence. No such group ever
represents itself as anything but
discriminated against, and generally
put upon. It also pays to be
exquisitely sensitive to anything
that can be construed as insulting,
critical or uncaring...as this
leads to compensatory or
the British and American research on the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.
Sponsored by the prestigious Institute of Economic Affairs, the older and larger British
equivalent of Canada's Fraser Institute, it is written in academic mode and is not easy
reading, but I found the effort worthwhile.
Author Morgan avoids simplistic fixation on single causes. She
acknowledges the role of overly generous welfare payments, which so many North American
conservatives, following Charles Murray, have blamed for creating both dependency and
family break-down, but shows that numerous other factors are also deeply involved. One is
the decline in young men's job prospects caused by the transition from a manufacturing to
a service economy. Young men without technical training or advanced education, unable to
earn enough to support a family, are less likely to form stable marriages, and much more
likely to engage in random couplings or ephemeral "relationships." If they do
marry, their wives will have to work and will probably have few children or none at all.
A decline in births to married women, she points out, is another factor
contributing to the higher rate of births to unmarried mothers, a ratio that has both a
numerator and a denominator. Births to unmarried mothers go into the numerator, while the
denominator contains the total of all births, most of which still come from married
women. When this number decreases, the ratio increases. Thus the relative increase
in un-married motherhood is partly due a relaxation of sexual mores, and partly to the
declining fertility of married women. Another major source of pressure on the
natural family is taxation policy, which increasingly penalizes intact families in the 
pursuit of [alleged]"fairness" for singles. Canadians, like Britons, are
familiar with the absence of a family-income concept in the federal income tax, the
conversion of tax deductions into tax credits, the removal of tax exemptions for children
in favour of means-tested direct payments, and many other features of the tax code, all of
which have made life harder for the traditional (and still by far the most common) form of
the family, in which the father is the main breadwinner.
Not to be forgotten is the momentous relaxation in divorce law at the
end of the 1960's in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, which changed the whole climate
surrounding marriage. Loss of faith in its durability was accompanied by the
"normalization" of co-habitation, promiscuity and homosexual liaisons. This
erosion of social support for the very concept of marriage is perhaps the most significant
development of all. The family shrinks to the ultra-nuclear unit of the mother and her
children, supported more often than not by the state. These single-parent families [mostly
headed by mothers] become a vociferous political pressure group capable of exercising
great influence, as shown by the recently announced Canadian change in the tax regime for
Evidence about the effects of family break-down mounts steadily. After
allowing for income differences, children of single parents still tend to do less well in
all measurable ways: physical and mental health; educational achievement; job success; and
formation of stable marriages. The effects on young girls much greater chances of
single motherhood, poverty and dependence on state support are bad enough. However,
the effects on young boys are even worse. Sociologist Morgan writes chillingly that
"We have reproduced the historic conditions for a warrior class: separation of
economic activity from family maintenance; children reared apart from fathers; wealth
subject to predation and male status determined by combat and sexual conquest, with young
men dealing in drugs and guns." Nothing in society has a single cause, but
family break-down is surely involved in the increasing prevalence and violence of youth
crime that is causing so much concern in Canada, as in other countries.
As the Morgan analysis clearly shows, isolated measures such as
reduction of welfare payments, however desirable on other grounds, will not suffice to
restore the natural family. Only a broad-based effort on many fronts, breaking the
bias towards single parenthood that rules public policy as well as popular culture can
relegitimize it. Until the natural family is re-established as a cultural norm, it will be
impossible to make more than superficial changes in public policy.
No one reading this book could imagine any easy victory, but the stakes
are high. "This reversal of the customary reputations of the family and the unmarried
woman with children since the 1960's is without historical or cultural precedent,"
Patricia Morgan writes. It seems unlikely tha all prior human cultures have been
completely wrong-headed. It is far more plausible that we, in departing from historical
models of the family, condemn ourselves to unhappiness, impoverishment
and----ultimately----replacement by people from less foolish societies.
Alberta Report, June 3, 1996, Page 42
Tom Flanagan is a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta,
Posted with permission from the Alberta Report.