Unless you were paying attention, you might have missed the New York Times report on a new social “milestone” last week: more than half of births to American women under 30 now occur outside of marriage.
The importance of that statistic is both alarming and staggering. Among women as a whole, 59% are married when they have children. But among women under 30, the tide has turned. More children are born out of wedlock than within it.
Even the liberal Times seems to have mixed feelings about the matter. Should this be seen as a sign of progress, a throwing off of the last vestiges of an outmoded, outdated, Leave-it-to-Beaver family model? Or should it be seen as a danger, a harbinger of more significant social ills to come?
As the Bible would indicate, the research points toward the latter. Quoting from the article:
…Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.
…Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.
…Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State University recently found that children born to married couples, on average, “experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”
I see at least three implications for the church in light of this cultural trend:
- The church must build masculine, godly, responsible men. The Times article describes one single mom whose “boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. ‘It was like living with another kid,’ she said.” Christian men should stand in stark contrast to this. And, as more men in the culture fail to fulfill their God-given role toward their children, godly Christian men need to pick up the slack by serving as coaches, teachers, mentors, and role models to the legions of kids whose dads are absent.
- The church must see healthy families as a missional strategy. As more and more kids grow up with parents who never married, the allure of a stable, intact, two-parent family will provide all sorts of opportunities for gospel mission.
- Clear teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood matters more than ever. People’s implicit assumptions about gender roles start from “what is” rather than from Creation. Dudes are slackers, women are making it work without them… so what? It is what it is. Missional churches must make basic, clear teaching on God’s design for manhood and womanhood a major component of their ministry.