Cover image for Life without father : compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society
Title:
Life without father : compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society
Author:
Popenoe, David, 1932-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Martin Kessler Books, [1996]

©1996
Physical Description:
viii, 275 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780684822976
Format :
Book

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Central Library HQ756 .P65 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

This text examines evidence from social and behavioural science, history and evolutionary biology, to show how the disintegration of the child-centred, two-parent family, and the weakening commitment of fathers to their children are a cause of many of our worst individual and social problems.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but a common denominator of familial misery is an absent father. To convert doubters of that proposition, sociologist Popenoe offers conclusions pulled from empirical studies, which overlay his frequent enunciation of the child's viewpoint: don't most kids in single-mother households prefer, if given a choice, also having a good father in the family? That 40 percent don't have one occupies Popenoe's search for the root of the problem, which takes him on a historical excursion through the American family from Puritan patriarchy to contemporary patterns of self-defined families. In contemporary patterns, Popenoe detects a source of fatherlessness in "radical individualism." Lest some readers recoil from that thesis, Popenoe takes pains not to idealize the Victorian or the 1950s nuclear family: he admits their stifling aspects but also insists that the responses to them--easy divorce and the elimination of social sanctions against illegitimacy--ineluctably lead to current rates of fatherlessness. Stern but readable analysis similar to David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America (1995). --Gilbert Taylor


Library Journal Review

Popenoe follows in the footsteps of David Blankenhorne's Fatherless America (LJ 1/95) with this second major study of American fatherhood. The author, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, is also cochair of the Council on Families in America. Popenoe's research findings on fatherlessness parallel many of Blankenhorne's. Most notably, children from single-parent families are more prone to poverty, juvenile delinquency, and dropping out of school than their two-parent counterparts. The chief cause: lack of a father role model and difficulties of single-parent supervision. While the author does not negate the value of substitute father figures as does Blankenhorne, he concurs there should be a reversal of the "new family" trend back to traditional nuclear families, with strong emphasis on fatherhood and marriage as basic cultural fundamentals. Popenoe concludes that fathers are indispensable for children and society and that the growing rate of fatherlessness is a looming disaster. Essential for public and academic libraries.‘Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., Ind. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Popenoe delivers a strong defense of fatherhood and marriage that is both scholarly and readable. Elaborating on his excellent comparison of family breakup in Sweden and the US, Disturbing the Nest (1988), the well-known Rutgers sociologist makes a strong case that men and women have essentially different roles in marriage and childrearing. Building on sociobiology (though carefully avoiding using the word), he contends that society needs strong marriages both to give children the gender-complementary rearing they need and to civilize men. Although Popenoe attends to the biological and economic sources of the current breakdown in fathering roles, the main cause, he believes, is a cultural denigration of marriage and fatherhood, and the main solution he proposes is a revival of cultural support for these institutions. His argument would be stronger if there were more comparative evidence about the effects of mother absence on children, but on the whole, this is an effective and well-made argument. General readers through graduate students. B. Weston Centre College


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One 1. The Remarkable Decline of Fatherhood and Marriage It's very easy for a man to father a child. "To father a child," unlike "to mother a child," typically refers to a biological act, and men today do not seem to have much of a problem in that regard. But it is difficult for a man to be a father. To be a father, rather than merely to father, means to give a child guidance, instruction, encouragement, care, and love. Fatherhood--the state of being a father--is declining to a remarkable degree because so many fathers no longer live with their biological children Fathers in America today are living apart from their biological children more than ever before in our history. Close to 40 percent of all children do not live with their biological fathers, a percentage that is steadily climbing.(1) Of children born in the past decade, the chances that by age seventeen they will not be living with both biological parents stand at over 50 percent.(2) Many studies have shown that the typical nonresident father neither supports nor even sees his children on a regular basis And, to make matters worse, many men who do live with their children ale often removed from the day-to-day upbringing of those children. The new, nurturing fathers certainly exist, but in overall numbers they remain in short supply The widespread separation of fathers from their children in the late twentieth century is in many respects a surprising occurrence, something that no one anticipated. Thanks especially to the rise of modern contraceptives, men now have far fewer children needing their care; the average family size in America has dropped over the centuries from more than seven children to around two. Many fathers today, in fact, have only a single child, and that child has an excellent chance of living to adulthood One would think that, with so few children, the responsibilities of fatherhood would be more readily accepted and more easily assumed. At the same time, men are healthier, better educated, and better endowed materially than they have ever been. America is the wealthiest society in the history of the world in terms of material consumption, and much of that wealth is held by men. Most men not only have the means to invest heavily in their offspring. but they must know, given the recent advances in psychological awareness, how important parenting is for child well-being, Yet male investments in children are dropping. So what has gone wrong? There are two proximate reasons for the contemporary outbreak of fatherlessness. The first is a very high rate of divorce More than 50 percent of all first marriages today are expected to end in divorce. In the great majority of divorces, the children involved end up residing with their mothers and apart from their fathers. The second is a very high rate of out-of-wedlock births, now more than 30 percent of all births. For most nonmarital births, unlike cases of divorce, the father is absent from the very beginning of the child's life In only about a quarter of American nonmarital births is the father living with the mother, and in those cases the likelihood that the father will still be living with the mother when the child reaches adolescence is very low, considerably lower than for married-couple families. Unfortunately, the statistical measures that indicate fatherlessness show little sign of diminishing Divorce has leveled off from its peak in the early 1980s. But most of the leveling is due to an increase in nonmarital cohabitation. The marriage-wary and divorce-prone are now more likely to cohabit out of wedlock, and of course, those who don't marry can't divorce. The national nonmarital cohabitation rate is growing by leaps and bounds, and lamentably cohabitation is a considerably less stable and committed relationship than marriage.(3) The estimated combined breakup rate of both married and unmarried unions, therefore, continues to escalate. The increase of nonmarital births also continues at an alarming pace. Some predict that it could reach 40 percent of all births by the end of this century. Indeed, if present trends continue, nonmarital births will soon outpace divorce as a cause of fatherlessness. Other father-absenting factors with potentially great impact loom on the horizon. lake the emergence of sperm-donor fathers, whose numbers are still small but rapidly growing The sperm giving rise to their existence is the sole access most sperm-donor children will have to their fathers. In each of these cases--divorce, nonmarital births, and sperm donations--the fatherlessness is voluntary. It could have been prevented if the adults in a child's life had made different decisions. There assuredly was a time in the past when the total amount of fatherlessness in society was higher than today, but it was involuntary father absence stemming from a high paternal death rate. In the early seventeenth century in colonial Virginia, for example, only an estimated 31 percent of white children reached age eighteen with both parents still alive.(4) Yet rapidly lowering death rates have been one of the great achievements of the modern world, and that percentage climbed to 50 percent by the early eighteenth century and to 72 percent by the turn of the twentieth century By 1940 most of the modern decline in parental death rate had occurred; about 88 percent of children born at that time still had two living parents when they finished childhood.(5) In recent decades. although the decline has slowed, the percentage of children who reach age eighteen with their parents still alive is well over 90 percent. Contemporary fatherlessness is thus not only unexpected and mostly voluntary but also tragically ironic. It has taken thousands of human generations for the conditions to prevail whereby children could have confidence that their fathers would remain alive throughout their childhood and thus be able to help them through this critical stage of life. Almost all of today's fatherless children have fathers who are alive, well, and perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibilities of fatherhood. Who would ever have thought that, when such conditions finally were achieved, so many fathers would relinquish those responsibilities?(6) We also could not have known what the evidence now suggests: that it is a decided disadvantage for a child to lose a father the modern, voluntary way rather than through death. It used to be said by many, including social scientists. What's the problem--children are merely losing their parents in a different way than they used to. You don't hear that so much anymore. A surprising finding of recent social science research is that the children of divorced and never-married mothers are less successful in life by almost every measure than the children of widowed mothers. In other words, the modern child is worse off, for reasons we shall explore in a later chapter, having a divorced father than a dead father! The replacement of death by divorce as the prime cause of fatherlessness, then, is a monumental setback in the history of childhood. DIVORCE OVERTAKES DEATH The year was 1974. That is when, as captured by official statistics. for the first time more marriages ended in divorce than in death.(7) But the date merely signifies the end of a long transition. The replacement of death by divorce had been quietly proceeding for more than a century. Of children born in the first decade of the twentieth century (1901-1910), nearly 23 percent were in families disrupted during their childhood through a parental death versus only about 5 percent in families broken through divorce. Thus, the great majority of all single-parent children in 1900 lived with a widowed parent; only 2 percent lived with a divorced parent and 3 4 percent with a never-married parent By 1960 death and divorce had already reached a parity among families with children. The percentage of children losing a parent through death had dropped from 23 percent to below 9 percent, while the percentage of children in families broken by divorce doubled, from 5 percent to over 10 percent.(8) Up until the 1960s the lowering death rate and the increasing divorce rate neutralized each other as generators of single-parent families. In fact. the growth of single-parent families from 1900 to 1960 was so slight that few public concerns about it were raised. In 1900 the percentage of all American children living in single-parent families was 8.5 percent By 1960 it had increased to just 9.1 percent.(9) Virtually no one at that time was writing or thinking about family breakdown, disintegration. or decline. Indeed, what is most significant about the changing family demography of the first six decades of the twentieth century is this: Because the death rate was dropping faster than the divorce rate was rising, by 1960 more children were living with both of their natural parents than at any other time in world history(10) Whereas at the turn of the century fewer than three quarters of all children were still living with their natural parents by age seventeen, this percentage went up to an all-time high of close to 80 percent for the generation born in the late 1940s and early 1950s.(11) But then the death rare decline slowed, the divorce rate skyrocketed, and family structure went into a free fall. The nuclear family cracked. "The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of, and seems unique," says Princeton University family historian Lawrence Stone. "There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer"(12) Consider what happened to children. For the generation born during the 1970 1984 "baby bust" period, most estimates put the projected percentage of these children still living with their natural parents by age Seventeen at only about 50 percent. This is a staggering drop from the nearly 80 percent figure of just three decades earlier.(13) One estimate paints the current scene in even starker terms and aLso points up the enormous difference that exists between whites and blacks. By age seventeen, 19 percent of white children and 48 percent of black children born between 1950 and 1954 had lived part of their lives with only one parent. But for those born in 1980, 70 percent of white children and 94 percent of black children are projected to have lived with only one parent before they reach age eighteen.(14) These are mostly fatherless children. In 86 percent of single-parent families today, the custodial parent is the mother.(15) If one looks at the proportion of their childhoods children today will spend living with just one parent, the change is equally startling White children born in the 1950-1951 period spent only 8 percent of their childhood with just one parent; black children spent 22 percent. Of those born in 1980, by one estimate, white children can be expected to spend 31 percent of their childhood years with one parent, and black children 59 percent.(16) The picture grows worse. In addition to the rapid increase of divorce, what helped generate the family free fall is something new that came on the scene-nonmarital births. As late as 1965 only one out of every thirteen births took place out of wedlock. Today, nearly one out of every three does. And just as divorce has overtaken death, nonmarital births are expected to surpass divorce as the leading cause of single-parenthood and father absence later in the 1990s. Already today the proportions of single-parent children living with a divorced parent and with a never-married parent are almost identical.(17) And there is now substantial evidence that having an unmarried father is even worse for a child than having a divorced father! The overtaking of death by divorce has had a remarkable impact on the family status of the male population.(18) At the beginning of the century, among those aged fifty-five to sixty-four, widowed men outnumbered divorced men by more than twenty to one. But when the divorced surpassed the widowed in the 1970s. the ratio reversed. By the year 2000, it is projected that there will be 3.7 divorced men for every widowed man in America.(19) The projections have yet to be made about the future numbers of never-married men. MARRIAGE DECLINE While the enormous increase in fatherlessness over the past three decades stems mainly from the two factors of divorce and nonmarital births, a single phenomenon underlies them both a decline in the institution of marriage(20) "At no time in history, with the possible exception of imperial Rome," the eminent demographer Kingsley Davis has said, "has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today"(21) In addition to marital breakup, marriage rates have been dropping and marriages have become less satisfying Not so long ago, at mid-century, the United States was probably the most marrying society in the world. The effects of that era can still be seen in the older generation. In 1990 an almost unbelievable 94 percent of men (and 95 percent of women) aged forty-five to fifty-four either were or had been married(22) But the marriage rate in recent decades has been steadily declining (despite the fact that in recent years the number of marriages has been at a record high because of large population cohorts at the most marriageable ages) In a little more than two decades, from 1970 to 1993, the percentage of never-married young men aged thirty to thirty-four increased from 9 percent to a staggering 30 percent.(23) To be sure, some of this new male singledom merely represents the delay of marriage, but a sizable portion of it almost certainly will become permanent. A decline in the marriage rate might be good news if it meant that fewer couples would have to endure a bad marriage and go through a painful divorce. But this has not happened. While the marriage rate has declined, the divorce rate has climbed to an historically high level and stayed there. In raw terms, the divorce rate has merely doubled over the past three decades. Yet the probability that a marriage will end in divorce has pone through the roof Only 14 percent of white women who married in the early 1940s eventually divorced, whereas almost half of white women who married in the late 1960s and early 1970s have already been divorced, For blacks the figures are 18 percent and nearly 60 percent.(24) Apart from the high rate of marital dissolution, there is growing evidence that the quality of married life in America has taken a rum for the worse. Being married and being relatively happy in life have always been strongly associated statistically But an analysis of survey data between 1972 and 1989 indicates that this association is weakening. An increasing proportion of never-married men and younger never-married women report that they are happy, along with a decreasing proportion of married women.(25) Marriage has been losing its social purpose. In place of commitment and obligation to others, especially children, marriage has become mainly a vehicle for the emotional fulfillment of the adult partners. "Till death do us part" has been replaced by "so long as I am happy" Marriage is now less an institution that one belongs to and more a vehicle to be used to one's own advantage. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans today, for example, cite "being married" as part of their definition of "family values."(26) This loss of social purpose is part of the broader cultural shift toward a radical form of individualism that accelerated rapidly beginning in the 1960s. With the rise of the "me generation," trust in all of our traditional social institutions waned. The legacy of this era remains firmly with us, with our attitude toward almost every social institution-government, religion. the law, the professions, education--now marked by a pervasive cynicism If present trends continue, the future of marriage does not appear bright. After all, if marriage is mainly for individual fulfillment, why marry just to be unhappy and eventually have to go through a painful divorce? Taking both childhood experiences and adult risks of marital disruption into account, only a minority of children born today are likely to grow up in an intact, two-parent family and also, as adults, form and maintain such a family Because children from broken homes have a higher chance than those from intact families of forming unstable marriages of their own, the risks of family disruption are likely to accelerate,(27) Marriage Decline and Fatherhood The decline of marriage is a disaster for fatherhood. Women have always been able to view marriage and childrearing as somewhat distinct institutions. Whatever their marital state, when women bear children they generally assume responsibility for those children and continue to care for them over the course of their lives. For men, this is not the case. Men tend to view marriage and childrearing as a single package. If their marriage deteriorates, their fathering deteriorates.(28) If they are not married or are divorced, their interest in and sense of responsibility to ward children greatly diminish. That male interest in children has decreased is a fact verified by many public opinion polls and social surveys. Compared to their counterparts in 1957, fewer than half as many fathers in 1976 found children providing a major life goal.(29) In a recent nationwide poll of teenagers, the New York Times found that 52 percent of teenage boys answered "still happy" to the question "Could you have a happy life or would you feel you missed pan of what you need to be happy if you don't have children?" Only 47 percent answered "missed."(30) An especially troubling trend is that males today show a reluctance even to acknowledge children that they do not see or support. Sociologist Frank Furstenberg, Jr., reports, for example, that many males do not report their children in social surveys. "Fertility histories from males are notoriously unreliable," he says, "because many men simply `forget children living outside the household." And in his own studies of unmarried youth in Baltimore, he found "strikingly higher reports of offspring among females than males."(31) Whereas men used to spend their entire lives residing in a family environment, today many do not. Partly due to the decline of marriage, there has been a marked reduction within the past few decades in the number of years men between the ages of twenty and fifty live in family environments where children are present.(32) For white males, time spent in a family environment including children decreased, between 1960 and 1980, from an average of 19.4 years to 15.7 years.(33) For black males. the change was even more dramatic: a decrease from 15 1 years to 11.6 years. The Black-White Differential Notice that the amount of time black males spent living in households with children in 1960, 15.1 years, was about what it was for white males in 1980, 15.7 years. Such a time and racial comparison yields similar results for many other family indicators, such as out-of-wedlock births, unmarried teen pregnancies, and percentage of single-parent families. Up to now at least, the characteristics of black families in America have anticipated the characteristics of white families by several decades. For example, 51 percent of black teenage mothers (12 percent of white teenage mothers) were unmarried in 1965; in 199Q, among white teenage mothers, 55 percent were unmarried. In 1960, 22 percent of black children (7 percent of white children) were living with only one parent; in 1990, among white children, 20 percent were living with only one parent.(34) Black family life, then, appears to be a precursor of what family life is likely to become for the rest of the population. While African-American families undoubtedly face some stresses that are unique to them, they are instructively viewed as prematurely suffering the negative con sequences of an American family environment that all groups share. THE DIVORCE REVOLUTION The greatest cause of father absence today is divorce. Many divorced fathers say that they want to provide more care for their children from the broken marriage, but their wives won't let them There is doubtless some truth to their plea A visit to any so-called fathers, rights organization, where the more aggrieved men band together for support, yields abundant anecdotes of irate and punitive former wives lined up against innocent and well-meaning divorced dads. Other divorced men deny that divorce has any ill effects on their children, apart from the effects of the conflict-ridden marriage that preceded the divorce. The children are better off, they claim, with the marital conflict diminished. There is also some truth to this belief. But the larger truth is that most divorced fathers in America, for whatever reason, lose almost all contact with their children over time. They withdraw from their children's lives. They become terrible fathers. And for those noncustodial men who maintain some contact, the reality is that co-residence between father and child is usually a necessary, if not always a sufficient, basis for sound and effective fatherhood Childrearing is one of the most time-intensive of all human activities, and it is very difficult to perform it well in absentia. Especially for men, "marriage and co-residence usually define responsibilities to children," concludes social researcher Judith Seltzer in her comprehensive research review of the topic.(35) Divorce is a quintessential American problem; we have long had the highest divorce rate in the Western world. This is largely the result of our diversity, our mobility and our individualism. In marriage, as in so many other spheres of life, Americans have been prone to pick up and move on when opportunity presents itself. But yesteryear's scale of divorce was nothing like today's. In America's first few centuries divorce was all but forbidden in most states. The rate began to climb around the time of the Civil War, when several states changed their laws to make divorce possible on a limited basis. By the turn of the twentieth century, the divorce rate had climbed so far and so fast, especially during the period 1880-1900, that divorce had reached what to many Americans seemed a stage of crisis In the first decade of the twentieth century, far more than today, public concern about the high rate of divorce was widespread. Newspapers took up the issue, churches became heavily engaged, and national commissions to investigate the problem were established. Yet the annual divorce rate in 1900 was still only six divorces per one thousand married couples. Throughout most of the twentieth century the rate gradually climbed, reaching a peak of twenty-three divorces per one thousand married couples in 1980--a nearly fourfold increase from the turn of the century. Most of the climb took place after 1960, when the divorce rate was still a modest nine divorces per one thousand married couples. Today, with the divorce rate holding at a level slightly below its peak, the chances that a marriage will end in either divorce or permanent separation (counting both first and remarriages) stand, by one recent estimate, at a staggering 60 percent.(36) As a classic example of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has called "defining deviance down." however, contemporary divorce is hardly recognized as a social problem. There seems to be an upper limit to how many things a society can consider to be deviant and problematic, and divorce has now dropped out of that category Where is the government commission or even congressional hearing set up to investigate the divorce problem? The fact is, of course, that a great many of our public servants are themselves divorced and not eager to take up such a sensitive topic. A Divorce Culture Far from viewing divorce as deviant, we seem well on the way to developing what could be called a culture or climate of divorce. Once we were a nation in which a strong marriage was seen as the best route to achieving the American dream. Sadly, we have become a nation in which divorce is commonly seen as a path to that contemporary version of the American dream, personal liberation and self-fulfillment. Marriage, so we have been told in recent decades by a myriad of learned critics, is restrictive, confining, oppressive, and unliberating. The solution is the unattached and carefree life, the life without commitments, the life which can result from "the new beginning" that only divorce can bring. Bookstores are flooded with publications that carry this message. One recent work entitled Healthy Divorce has the following publicity blurb "It is possible for both parents and children to maintain emotional stability and a sense of security, find renewal, and ultimately flourish when emerging from a divorce--if the process has been conducted as a healthy divorce."(37) Stars of the entertainment industry, which now dominates popular culture co an unbelievable degree, are better known and even celebrated for their multiple divorces than for their good, monogamous marriages. Consider Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Mickey Rooney, each with eight marriages. With his various wives Rooney has a total of nine children and two stepchildren. Or consider Glen Campbell, country music's golden boy in the late sixties and early seventies, who has eight children with four wives. This legacy is being emulated by the younger generation of celebrities. Many family scholars and professionals argue that, because nothing can be done about it, we should accept the culture of divorce and adjust our institutions accordingly The dean of American family sociologists. Harvard's William J Goode, has said: We should accept the fact that most developed nations can now be seen as high divorce rate systems, and we should institunonalize divorce--accept it as we do other inStitutions, and build adequate safeguards as well as social understandings and pressures to make it work reasonably well."(38) Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr, and Andrew J. Cherlin. in their influential recent book Divided Families What Happens to Children When Parents Part, conclude: "We are inclined to accept the irreversibility of high levels of divorce as our starting point for thinking about changes in public policy."(39) Some lawyers instruct people to prepare for divorce just as carefully as they prepare for marriage, including the use of a prenuptial agreement. Marriage therapists, in the name of "neutrality," often do less to promOte marriages than to counsel individuals through a "good divorce " Family court judges typically are more interested in promoting divorce counseling than marriage counseling. One indubitable effect of the widespread acceptance of divorce is its increase. Marriages may be more stressful today than ever before; that is debatable. But at the same time, divorce surely is taking place at ever lower levels of marital stress. Divorce was once limited to those marriages which had broken down irreparably, often because one spouse was seriously pathological, irresponsible, or incompetent. Today divorce may occur simply because a better partner has been located. And given the high rate of divorce, "better partners" in ever growing numbers are continually coming onto the market. Changing Laws The act of divorce has been made far easier in the past few decades by changes in the laws of divorce. Divorce law changes by themselves cannot bear too much scrutiny as the primary cause of the divorce revolution; changes in the law typically follow changes in values and behavior rather than vice versa Yet some people doubtless decide what is right by seeing what is legal, and thus changes in the law have some behavioral effects. A worldwide analysis of divorce trends concluded that "the legal changes can certainly be said to have contributed to the increase in one-parent families, even if they did not cause it."(40) Although they took place quietly, with little planning or public notice, little public discussion or input, and almost no controversy, the changes in divorce law represent one of the most radical legal transformations of recent years. One prominent book on the topic is entitled Silent Revolution.(41) Initiated and promoted by divorce lawyers through state legislatures, divorce law over a period of less than twenty years, from the late 1960s to the 1980s, shifted from being based on the principle of fault--requiring a finding that one party is guilty and the other is innocent--to the principle of no fault Fault could be shown by such acts as adultery, cruelty, or desertion, the concept implies intentional harm or a breach of duty and has its roots in the view that marriage is a binding commitment in which society has a strong interest. Under the new law, now in existence in almost every state, a marriage can be terminated unilaterally for almost any reason, regardless of who, if anyone, is "guilty." A principal reason for changing the old law was that it had become widely disregarded in the sense that many of the interested parties, along with the legal profession and the courts, openly colluded to get around it. Divorce law, in practice, had become a kind of legal scandal, a source of psychic warfare, dishonesty. and unfairness, and few people wish to return to those legally "messy" days of having to prove fault. Yet the change virtually removed from the law all sense of personal commitment and social interest. In many ways marriage has become one of the least binding of legal contracts, a kind of temporary business partnership with an illusory contract in which neither parry involved will be held liable for breaking any promises that are made. If a woman marries a man, for example, with his promise that he will "be there for the children," and then down the line he breaks his promise and deserts her for someone else, she has little legal recourse. She is simply out of luck. Thus, in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of most citizens, the institution of marriage has shifted abruptly away from being a socially important relationship that involves a legally binding commitment. Marriage has become little more than a "notarized date," truly just the proverbial piece of paper.(42) Or as Robert Louis Stevenson once said about "marriage at its lowest," "We regard it as a sort of friendship recognized by the police." Copyright © 1996 David Popenoe. All rights reserved.

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