It’s easy to say that a “family can be anything you choose.” You can have Molly has two mommies, or Jaxon who splits his time between Dad’s house and Mom’s or some version of “his, mine, ours.” In reality, the traditional family is a necessary economic and sociological element of a strong society. It’s like the game Jenga: you can slide and maneuver things all you want, but eventually, it all comes crashing down.
Jonathan V. Last, writing at The Weekly Standard, discusses this “family fragmentation.” He reviews Mitch Pearlstein’s book, Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future, and why the family must be saved. The family – that unit of biological mom, biological dad and children – remains the “gold standard” when it comes to not only how well children do in life, but in so many important aspects of society.
The trick is that the social capital created by traditional families is what undergirds the rest of our society. Sociologists and economists now understand that when this social capital is diminished, it causes all sorts of other problems. The crises of the welfare state, wage stagnation, income inequality, unemployment, the prison-industrial complex—all of these, and much more, can be traced to the breakdown of the family.
“Family breakdown is the shadow behind all sorts of other problems that people are much more easily conversant about,” explains the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution tells Pearlstein that “on a scale of one to ten, [it’s] probably a fifteen; it’s the biggest problem we have.” Because, as Heather Mac Donald, also of the Manhattan Institute, puts it, “The family unit is the absolute basis of society. It is responsible for civilizing human beings and creating adults who are capable of engaging in the economy. With families breaking down at the rates they are, our chance of being able to take care of other large economic problems recedes.”
Despite overwhelming evidence that the nuclear family is of fundamental importance, there are those who prefer the “anything you choose” form of family. Last quotes “progressive historian Stephanie Coontz” as saying that those who wish for the traditional family model are simply being “nostalgic” and that this model made women far too dependent on men economically. Last replies:
What Coontz reveals is that, whatever they may say, for some liberals income inequality, economic mobility, and the welfare of children are second-order goods, prized below such things as “relationship quality” and sexual autonomy. Some liberals can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the importance of the former if it means impugning the consequences of the latter. But Pearlstein performs a great service in presenting Coontz’s view without mocking or arguing against it. He realizes that if we’re going to change the culture, people like Stephanie Coontz will have to be wooed, not defeated.