The family unit is the foundation of human society, but in the American culture we are continuing to witness a decline in the family structure. Simultaneously we’re seeing high rates of both single-parent homes and abortion. Add to this the legal redefinition of marriage, and it becomes clear that the family unit is suffering in our current culture.
As Semelsberger points out, one of the biggest concerns regarding the family unit is the overall lack of interest in starting a family. He explains, “our marriage rates are dropping. Fertility rates are actually dropping as well. So people just are not desiring to be married, the stability of marriage, to find that lifelong committed partner and to start a family.”
He goes on to discuss how this disconnection from family is also affecting the extended family. While families used to be full of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who were all closely connected, now families are getting smaller and living further apart. One of the impacts that this is having is on abortion rates. Semelsberger explains, “One of the main reasons women give time and time again of why they choose abortion is either economic reasons or just relationship partner reasons. . . But think about it if a woman, even if the father is not in the picture, has extended family around her and in her life . . . to be there to support her through carrying that pregnancy to term, they’re going to be so much more likely to choose life and feel like they have a support system if her family is around her.”
Semelsberger ends on a practical note, discussing policies and laws that help promote and support the family unit. This is critically important for the future of our society, because “family is always going to do a better job at helping a woman or anyone in need than the government can.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. “The American Family is Disintegrating,” — well, that’s the title of an article co-written by our guest today, and he suggests the problem is not for the reasons you might think and the solutions much closer to home than you might want to think. Connor Semelsberger is Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity at Family Research Council, and he’s here to offer up some ideas on how we can start rebuilding the vital institution of the American family.
Connor Semelsberger, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: It’s so great to be back, and happy to talk about what we can do to really strengthen the American family.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Your article starts by laying out some startling statistics about abortion among single Americans on one hand and then on the other hand the skyrocketing numbers of children being raised in single-parent homes. So what are those stats, and what’s going on here?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Let’s start with the issue of abortion. We had the Dobbs decision this summer overturning Roe v. Wade. It was a great momentous victory for the life issue, but what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is some very recent abortion statistics coming out of the states. And one thing that just jumped off the page as we’ve been analyzing these statistics is how integral the family, or rather the breakdown of the family is to the rising rates of abortion in the U.S. And the stat that most jumped out is that consistently over the past ten years or so between 84 to 86 percent of all abortions ever recorded annually in the United States are to unmarried women. That is a stat that is just so much higher than any other demographic, whether it’s age, or race, or prior pregnancies, anything else. Married versus unmarried women is just such a high proportion of our abortions in our country.
And if you look on the other side, if you look at just how many people are living with a single parent, predominantly single mothers, and we have the highest rate across the whole globe. The United States has the highest rate of children living with single parents. So it’s just sobering statistics that kind of get overlooked, over glossed. We love to look at total statistics or marriage rates and things like this, but to just see how inextricably linked things like abortion, the breakdown of the family are all to this institution that is time tested and well-established, and that’s marriage.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right. Do you have some hard stats on what has happened to that so-called American nuclear family?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yeah, we really do. Just highlighting single families is one, but, boy, let’s look at a couple more. We have tracked the marriage rates overall and really looking back and seeing just how much COVID has impacted us just in terms of people dying in our country, maybe the way our government works with our healthcare system and things like that and our economy. But, boy, I think COVID just had such lasting effects on religion and the American family, and here is one just to throw out. We had the lowest rate of marriages in any year in American history in 2020, 5 percent. Just as little as 10, 15 years ago, that was up to 7.5 percent, so it’s dropped almost two percentage points in less than 5 years. And COVID — it bottomed out in 2020.
So you just look at statistics like that where our marriage rates are dropping. Fertility rates are actually dropping as well. So people just are not desiring to be married, the stability of marriage, to find that lifelong committed partner and to start a family. It’s just not happening at the same rates that we’ve had. So children aren’t being born. Couples aren’t coming together to foster family, and so that nuclear family as a whole from all fronts, being married, staying married, having children, raising children, has just been on a full frontal assault. And, like I said, it all culminated in sort of 2020 with COVID where just so much was thrown out of the loop, and the American family really suffered because of it.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So I don’t know if the 2021 statistics are available yet, but do you think that there’s going to be a bounce back then on the marriage and fertility rates?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yeah. So that’s a good assumption to make. I think there will be a slight bump back. Like you said, hey, my wedding got canceled, I had to push it off to next year. But one thing we’ve looked into that sort of might not see as big of an increase as you might think is the people that were really dedicated to wanting to get married, they went to the courthouse or made sure they had a reverend there. They made sure they got married at least in principle and on paper. They put maybe the celebration off, but they cared about marriage. They got married. So that’s the thing, the people that really cared about the institution probably followed through with a COVID wedding.
But others that said, hey, my big wedding got canceled, I’ll put it off to next year, maybe they never got married down the road, or they realized that actually being with this person a little longer, I don’t want to get married to this person. So you may see some increase yet, but the numbers haven’t been released, and we think it may just have bottomed out and that might be where we go. But we’ll be very interested to see where things bounce back after 2021 and now as we round out 2022.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You said this is also extending to the extended family, so we’re seeing a major drop in that as well. How does that affect the whole family and especially children?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: This is one thing that I think really resonated with me. You know, the nuclear family is so important. It’s God-ordained, a husband, a wife, and their children, but the family is so much bigger than that. And I think it’s something other countries, whether they’re developed countries or not really get right that we in the United States at least in our modern times really get wrong. It’s the idea of the extended family being connected, grandparents and their grandchildren, aunts and uncles and their nieces. That extended family is just — they’re getting smaller. We’re not having tons and tons of cousins and aunts and uncles like we used to because we’re just having families with two kids or even one kid. Grandparents maybe live so far away from their children. We’re just so much more disconnected than we used to be, and one stat that would show it, again, even globally how we don’t contend there, only 8 percent of American children live with any aunts or grandparents or extended family compared to 38 percent of children around the globe live with some member of their extended family. So you can just see how around the globe this essence of family and into that extended family resonates so much in terms of passing down the faith and their moral values and virtues and just being able to raise up together. And just here in the U.S. that’s just really faltered where it’s not only the extended family that’s not connected, the nuclear family is not either. And it leave people just feeling more isolated than ever before.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And that extended family providing kind of a barrier to some of the problems that you might encounter, and whether there’s health or sickness or financial problems, you’ve got extended family to come in and help during those difficult times.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yeah, yeah, just real quick on that. Talk about the abortion issue. One of the main reasons women give time and time again of why they choose abortion is either economic reasons or just relationship partner reasons, and a lot of that is solved by a spouse being in the picture. That’s why the married rate of abortion is so low. But think about it if a woman, even if the father is not in the picture, has extended family around her and in her life, either her mother or father, a brother, a sister to be there to support her through carrying that pregnancy to term, they’re going to be so much more likely to choose life and feel like they have a support system if her family is around her. But if the nuclear family is broken down, the extended family is not around, the only person she may have to rely on is the children’s father and if it’s not her husband, many times they choose abortion.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Good point. So you also talked in your article, briefly, about what you believe are not the causes of this disintegration of the family, and I know as American conservatives we really like to point the finger out there somewhere. But what are some of those issues that you think may not be contributing as much as some people might lead us to believe.
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: So the way we’ve started to look at it is actually flipping everything on its head. We’re just flipping the coin. We are FRC, we tackle stopping abortions and the disintegration of marriage through same-sex marriage and transgenderism and all of that, and the disintegration of religious freedom. We sort of tackle things at the end result, and instead we’re starting to think of things at the very beginning. And while we might think the rapid rates of abortion or the new found acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgenderism are the cause of the breakdown of the family, the way we look at it those things are actually the symptoms. They’re big symptoms. They’re important symptoms, but rather than actually being the causes of the breakdown of the family, they are actually the graphic and unfortunately downtrodden symptoms of what is low marriage rate, families not being intact, extended families being distant, all of those things we just went through.
Those are normally the things we point back to. That’s the reason you’re going to have higher abortion rates if the family is broken down. The idea of same-sex marriage is only palpable to a culture that has already accepted that marriage even between a man and a woman is no longer for life or it’s no longer with a single person. When, for instance, you know, marriages can be ripped up in the moment of no-fault divorce or just cheating becomes way more widely accepted. Things like that are all beginning to show in the family, and then only when that happens do you get things like a rapid rise in abortion, same-sex marriage, the idea that a biological man can identify or change their sex to become a woman. Those things are sort of outgrowths of the destabilization of the family.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Do you have some practical and manageable ways that we can start to rebuild our family in our own homes, communities, neighborhoods?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: Yes. And that’s what we really wanted to do with the piece we wrote, and we encourage you to check it out. We wanted to diagnose the issue. What’s going on? Why is this so graphic? Why are these changes so much more dramatic than we might think? What are those practical things we can do something about it? I may not be a policymaker, but what can you do? If you’re a young person, start a family. Don’t wait until you’ve already been settled in your career and all your debt is paid off and everything is going well for you and then decide you know what at this point I should start a family. Start a family. Stay connected to your family. We talk about the extended family. No better thing than to reach out to maybe that relative that you haven’t talked to in a long time to pull them back in. Maybe they’re going through a tough time and they’re dealing with these very things we just talked about, and just that friendly voice can make a difference.
And even just reaching out to those people right at your doorstep that might be in need. Maybe there is someone facing an unplanned pregnancy that just needs someone to tell them it’s going to be okay, or even if you can providing that financial support. You know, you might not be able to give them a stable home or a stable job, but you can help them with some immediate needs in the short term and that can be the difference between choosing life or not. So there’s so many things we can do just in our own lives with our own families. Hey, I’m a married man and I have a young daughter at home. Just going home every day and just loving our spouses and loving our children in the way that God loves us makes so much difference that we don’t really see to really building up a sense of faith in our country and a sense of family once again.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Good point. Just go home and love your own family. That’s a great place to start as well. What about churches? How important of a role do or can churches play in starting to rebuild the American family?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: They’re essential. You know, civil society as a whole always is going to play a role, but the church has to be at the forefront. Why? Because God created this institution of marriage and the family. It’s ordained by Him, and if we want to restore families and we want to restore a sense of faith in society, it has to come from the church. Right? Just re-acknowledging how important the family is. I think that is something churches overlook. They feel like they have to provide the solution. They have to provide maybe all the financial resources to the families in their community to make a difference. Just preaching the word that family matters, and family is a man and a woman in love modeling the love that God has for his people, us, and children. I think that’s a great first step, and then really it is helping — starting there and then from that growing out how the church can really serve the families in your community, whether that is maybe a school or childcare, church-based, faith-based childcare to help families that maybe have to have two working parents. Supporting families when they face crises. So churches need to preach the truth, begin with that stable foundation which we sort of lost, and from out there meet people in the immediate needs that they may have. They’re going to look different for everybody, but just being that friendly face when someone is down is going to really bring someone into a church and help them stay in a church community instead of letting them drift off or feel like the church wasn’t there for them. Being there to bring these families together if they do face a crisis I think’s a great place to start.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Are there some policies that we can pursue that will help us along the way here?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: There are, and I love how this conversation went. We always want to start with what can we practically do first within our communities, and there’s always going to be a policy solution at the end of the day that can help support that. So we at FRC, what we’re trying to do for our policy solutions moving forward is that, again, like I mentioned, these issues, instead of being isolated, okay, let’s just tackle abortion and push policies just to stop abortion or let’s just try to shore up marriage or fight against same-sex marriage, instead of looking at these things isolatedly, we’re starting to look at these things together as a whole. How do we help support families, establish what families truly are, not some vague definition that’s always changing? What is a family? Why are they important to society? And how can our local governments, our state governments, or our federal government support them?
Part of it, unfortunately, is just how the economy goes, so goes the family. The families and the economy are very tied together. Why? Because families need to support their family and it takes working hard to do that. So when the economy is struggling, usually the families do, too. So we need to shore up an economy that puts families first. So looking at things like tax credits that can really help families or just helping get men that maybe lost their jobs or are out of the workforce because of COVID back working again, supporting and providing for the family. So that’s one place we’re starting, the economy, but also just re-establishing the importance of marriage. States and local governments have such a great opening to really re-establish the importance of marriage in their same communities. Maybe repealing no-fault divorce is years away, but starting with educating people about what divorce is before going through divorce, helping incentivize marriage counseling if not requiring it, those are things that state and local governments can do to really shore up marriages. And then, again, the more that marriage is stabilized the less likely women may be to choose abortion. And so our welfare policies, whether federally or at the state level, and we’re trying to get away from incentivizing single motherhood. If our welfare policies, for instance, incentivize single women to stay single instead of getting married, it’s just replaced by the government. So it doesn’t mean that we don’t want any resources going out to women in need but always with the forefront that work is important and that family is always going to do a better job at helping a woman or anyone in need than the government can. So we’re looking at things like that to really tinker around, support marriage, and those trickle-down effects of abortion and just being there through our public policy to establish marriage, family, work and how important it is, and even if it takes a while, little by little we hope that policies like this all across our country and different solutions here in Congress can really start to make a difference to re-establish families.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Connor Semelsberger, where can our listeners go to read your article, “The American Family is Disintegrating: The Rebuild Needs to Start in Our Own Homes,” and to follow your other work?
CONNOR SEMELSBERGER: So you can check FRC out at FRC.org. You can find all of our policy papers and great documentaries and videos and everything, but to check out this article specifically, check out our news outlets, which is called the Washington Stand. WashingtonStand.org will get you right there. Check out this and many more articles to come.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Connor Semelsberger, Director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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