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since June 19, 2001


Farewell to the Family — Book Review

Reassembly will be the really tough part

Our destruction of family, a sociologist warns, is absolutely without precedent


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, CA 94103)

 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
 poverty-stricken, maligned,
 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
 propitiatory awards.'

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 child-support payments.
    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.

 -Tom Flanagan
 Alberta Report, June 3, 1996, Page 42

Tom Flanagan is a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

Posted with permission from the Alberta Report.

See also:

Feminism For Male College Students A Short Guide to the Truth, by Angry Harry (Off-Site)

Posted 2000 02 18 (previously part of the bibliography)
2001 01 30 (format changes)
2006 03 04 (added link to Feminism for Male College Students)