What Should Be Done?

The lambent visionaries who scripted the Sixties promised that Americans would be much better off after they had shed restrictive marital roles. So why, a half century later, are social scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) concluding that in cutting their marital ties, Americans have actually been shredding the social safety net for those most in need? The malign effects of marital disintegration stand out clearly in the review that UCLA scholars recently completed of a series of studies limning the demographic changes incident to “reorganization of US family life due to high rates of divorce, childbearing outside of marriage, cohabitation, and remarriage.” Of particular concern to the analysts are the implications of these demographic changes “for the help parents and children give each other throughout their adult years.” Those implications, as it turns out, are quite sobering. In the first place, as they look at parents and children, the analysts adduce evidence that the retreat from wedlock, the divorce revolution, and the explosion in out-of-wedlock births has “increase[d] both generations’ need for family assistance among those already disadvantaged.” Lamentably, the very changes in family life that have increased need for family assistance have made that assistance much harder to find. Researchers see fatherless children as a particularly vulnerable group losing access to family assistance: “Children born to cohabiting mothers and those whose mothers are not in a coresidential union (i.e., not cohabiting and not married) frequently lose ties to their biological fathers when their parents’ relationship dissolves, as most nonmarital unions do.” Even when a divorced mother does remarry, her children typically receive less than full support from their new stepfather. As the UCLA analysts explain, “Compared with obligations between biological parents and children, responsibilities of stepparents and s
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