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The Divorce Culture: How Divorce Became an Entitlement and How It is Blighting the Lives of Our Children.

Anyone who even occasionally tunes into television and radio talk shows, skims a newspaper editorial page or an opinion magazine, or browses the nonfiction aisles at a bookstore is familiar with some variation on the following theme: “The family, in its old sense…is disappearing from our land, and not only our free institutions are threatened but the very existence of our society is endangered.” This formulation of the problems facing “the family” is interesting for at least three reasons. First, as is often the case in such discussions, it invokes the family as a wholly self-evident, unitary phenomenon with no possible variation. Second, it captures the lure of traditional social arrangements and articulates the centrality of the family to society at large. Third, the statement is well over a century old, having originally appeared in an 1859 issue of the Boston Quarterly Review. That it sounds so current is worth pausing over.

Americans have long worried that “the family” is an wringing wring  

v. wrung , wring·ing, wrings

v.tr.

1. To twist, squeeze, or compress, especially so as to extract liquid. Often used with out.

2. . If anything, arguments like the one in the Boston Quarterly Review convey an important – if partial – truth: The family in its “old sense” is always breaking down and being reformulated, as are other institutions in a society still at least loosely based on classical liberal notions of choice and competition. Indeed, such a process is central to any social order in which people, to quote F.A. Hayek, gain “the opportunity of knowing and choosing different forms of life.”

Recognizing change as continuous helps place the anxiety it creates in better perspective. And given the anxiety over “the family,” the more perspective, the better. Discussions of family life are almost always conducted in highly apocalyptic terms; they also often suffer from a United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world’s third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  involve minor children). The Divorce Culture seeks to explain how divorce went from a rare event to a common one: In 1920, there were about 8 divorces per 1,000 married females; in 1985 the number reached 21.7. Despite some peaks and valleys – rates were sharply elevated from 1941 to 1948, because of hasty wartime marriages; rates declined slightly from 1950 through 1958, for reasons that remain unclear – the divorce rate increased relatively steadily until the late ’80s. Since 1987, it has held constant at 20 to 21 per 1,000.

On the most basic level, Whitehead’s plea that any discussion of divorce acknowledge the effect on children is unobjectionable and commonsensical, as is the implication that, in general, an intact, relatively happy family is preferable to a broken, relatively unhappy one. However, she overstates the consequences of divorce for children and the linkage between divorce and developmental problems. And while she correctly points to the “logic of capitalism” as the coincidental co·in·ci·den·tal  

adj.

1. Occurring as or resulting from coincidence.

2. Happening or existing at the same time.

co·in  with the psychologization of American society, we entered an era of what Whitehead calls “expressive divorce,” in which a person’s self-defined happiness and satisfaction reign supreme. Casting divorce as an “inner journey of the self” reduced “the number of legitimate Remarriage Re`mar´riage   

n. 1. A second or repeated marriage.

Noun 1. remarriage – the act of marrying again  – about two-thirds of women and three-quarters of men stepfamily step·fam·i·ly  

n. pl. step·fam·i·lies

A family with one or more stepchildren.  is usually equivalent to that of a first marriage, children are “two to three times more likely to suffer emotional and behavior problems and nearly twice as likely to have developmental or learning problems as children in intact families”; stepchildren are also more likely to drop out of school, become unwed teen mothers, and have difficulty holding steady jobs as young adults.

While she grants that it is better that some marriages dissolve and that some children benefit from divorce, Whitehead almost exclusively stresses its negatives, relying heavily on the controversial work of Judith Wallerstein. Beginning in the 1970s, Wallerstein conducted a San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden  Bay-area divorce clinic. Wallerstein’s research, says Whitehead, demonstrates that “the experience of parental divorce damaged many young adults’ ability to forge strong attachments of their own, in both their work and their family lives.”

Wallerstein’s work, however, is far from definitive. Beyond the lack of a control group of similar, nondivorced families, she has been criticized for including parents with histories of psychiatric problems. Indeed, Wallerstein herself classified half the men and almost half the women as “moderately disturbed or frequently disabling dis·a·ble  

tr.v. dis·a·bled, dis·a·bling, dis·a·bles

1. To deprive of capability or effectiveness, especially to impair the physical abilities of.

2. Law To render legally disqualified.  neuroses and addictions.” Additionally, 15 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women were “severely disturbed,” with long histories of mental problems; only a third, hyperactive hy·per·ac·tive

adj.

1. Highly or excessively active, as a gland.

2. Having behavior characterized by constant overactivity.

3. Afflicted with attention deficit disorder. , and children of divorce Children of Divorce is a 1927 Frank Lloyd silent film, from an adaptation of Owen Johnson’s novel, written by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton. Plot

Kitty, Jean and Ted are all children of divorce.  often run higher risks for problems, that doesn’t mean that problems are in any way a dropout (1) On magnetic media, a bit that has lost its strength due to a surface defect or recording malfunction. If the bit is in an audio or video file, it might be detected by the error correction circuitry and either corrected or not, but if not, it is often not noticed by the human  rate as high as 22 percent, compared to 11 percent for those from two-parent households. The single-parent figures are sharply higher, but they also suggest a wide range of response to parental breakup. While there is no question that divorce causes pain, suffering, and difficult adjustments for children (and parents), it’s far from clear that it constitutes a “blight.”

Whitehead’s analysis of the roots of contemporary divorce rates is similarly cliched cli·chéd also cliched  

adj.

Having become stale or commonplace through overuse; hackneyed: “In the States, it might seem a little clichéd; in Paris, it seems fresh and original”   and unsupported broadside against contemporary society: “The entire ethos of the American workplace has shifted toward a short-term, performance-based, limited-benefits, ten-career-changes-in-a-lifetime model,” she writes. “Increasingly…the workplace rewards individuals who are mobile, unattached, unrestricted by family commitments.”

Beyond wildly exaggerating the “ethos” of the contemporary workplace – and ignoring the fact that the workplace has always rewarded people who put their jobs first – such an interpretation fails to engage a much more complicated relationship between marriage and large social and economic shifts over the past century. As looking for Looking for

In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with.  work. Fifty years later, the figure was closer to 70 percent. Perhaps the most dramatic increase occurred among women with children under 6: While less than 10 percent of such women worked in 1940, about 60 percent were on the job in 1990. As widowhood Widowhood

Douglas, Widow

adopted Huck Finn and took care of him. [Am. Lit.: Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn]

Gummidge, Mrs

. “a lone lorn creetur,” the Pegotty’s house-keeper. [Br. Lit. .

Our society’s relative wealth and its emphasis on mutually fulfilling marriages make it likely that divorce will remain a prevalent phenomenon. The “logic of capitalism” turns out to be a tough little folkways folkways, term coined by William Graham Sumner in his treatise Folkways (1906) to denote those group habits that are common to a society or culture and are usually called customs.  generally precede laws. For instance, contrary to the blame heaped on no-fault divorce laws, the surge in divorce began before no-fault statutes were on the books. Whatever The Divorce Culture’s failings, it doesn’t compound them by unveiling a federally mandated 12-step plan to succor a particular version of the family.

The same cannot be said for Dana Mack’s The Assault on Parenthood. If Whitehead proposes solutions largely rooted in civil society, Mack wants to bring in the Marines to enforce her version of marital law. Mack, who is affiliated with the Institute for American Values, is no fan of “rampant divorce,” but she issues a broader indictment than Whitehead. Citing juvenile crime rates, declining SAT scores, and feelings of parental impotence, Mack stresses “the sudden and rapid decay of those stable social values that once fostered a protective culture of childhood.” That most indicators of children’s well-being suggest things are getting better for most kids does not trouble her analysis. (See “Child-Proofing the World,” June.)

For Mack, the family is being undermined simultaneously by marketplace values and government intervention. Indeed, government at all levels is the main villain in Mack’s analysis, a Kafkaesque unintended consequences For the “Law of unintended consequences”, see Unintended consequence

Unintended Consequences is a novel by author John Ross, first published in 1996 by Accurate Press. . Few of these stories are original with Mack: She repeats, for instance, part of Hannah Lapp’s February 1994 REASON story, “Child Abuse,” which details how child-protective services can run IRS An abbreviation for the Internal Revenue Service, a federal agency charged with the responsibility of administering and enforcing internal revenue laws.  would countenance little opposition from “free-riders” such as retirees and childless workers. “If childless working people resent a larger tax burden, they should consider who will be working to pay their Social Security…and medical bills in the coming decades,” she writes. Curious logic in a book that touts personal responsibility as a virtue: Why exactly should someone who chooses not to have children be forced to pay for someone else’s family? (And, while we’re at it, why should the government, rather than families, take care of people in their old age?) Mack ignores the school taxes childless couples and retirees pay and has no comment on the marriage penalty on two-income households.

“Work relief” also looms large in Mack’s proposals, and represents another way of pushing the cost of children onto others. She favors grandchildren GRANDCHILDREN, domestic relations. The children of one’s children. Sometimes these may claim bequests given in a will to children, though in general they can make no such claim. 6 Co. 16. ) have already been there and done that.

Her policy prescriptions – such as allowing the government to “blunt instrument Blunt instrument is a legal description of a weapon used to hit someone, which does not have a sharp or penetrating point or edge. Their effect is usually blunt force trauma, to stun, or to break bones. They sometimes kill.  used to club psychotherapist psy·cho·ther·a·pist

n.

An individual, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, or psychiatric social worker, who practices psychotherapy.  affiliated with Boston University Boston University, at Boston, Mass.; coeducational; founded 1839, chartered 1869, first baccalaureate granted 1871. It is composed of 16 schools and colleges. , stumps for a particular vision of “the family.” Hence the subtitle: How Two-Income Families Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off. Better off than whom? Single-income families, especially those with a stay-at-home mother. The authors are convinced that their family model is self-evidently superior to any other, and they marshal an array of data to support their rebuttal rebuttal n. evidence introduced to counter, disprove or contradict the opposition’s evidence or a presumption, or responsive legal argument.  to Mack’s claim that women don’t really want to work and that parents “say that…pressures on women to work are killing family life.” For instance, research from a variety of sources, including a national longitudinal study, shows mothers who work outside the home report better physical and emotional health than their nonemployed counterparts. Apparently, such gains do not come at the expense of children. A meta-analysis of 14 studies of maternal bonding in children attending day care (the normal situation, one assumes, for kids with working mothers) and children reared at home found no difference between the two groups. As interesting, studies consistently show that working mothers spend as much time as their nonworking counterparts in direct interaction with their kids.

The second notable aspect of She Works/He Works is its refusal to indulge in even implicit Nick Gillespie Nick Gillespie has been the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine since 2000. He has written articles or been a commentator for many media outlets. Gillespie is known for frequently appearing in his trademark leather jacket. He has two sons, Jack and Neal.[1].  (ngilles123@aol.com) is a senior editor of REASON.

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