Americans don’t like to be misled, which is why the guys on the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters can make such a good living debunking false beliefs.
However, before you can disprove a “myth,” you have to start with a myth—something that’s simply not true. Recently, the Washington Post’s Sunday “Five Myths” section stubbed its toe on that very concept.
Author Stephanie Coontz attempted to tackle “myths” about marriage, one of which is that “married couples are the building blocks of community life.” Why does the writer consider this a myth? Well, for one reason: “All that time couples invest in their children comes at the expense of being involved in the world beyond the family’s front door.”
The reality is far different. Rather than keeping to themselves, couples with children often become involved in their communities because they have children. My wife’s group of friends consists almost entirely of people she’s met through mom’s groups, school groups, the community pool, and so forth. Because of my sons, I’ve been coaching baseball and basketball for years now. That has allowed me to meet scores of parents and children I wouldn’t have otherwise.
More than a decade ago, the book Bowling Alone warned “that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often.” The growth of children’s sports (and the parental involvement it necessitates) seems to be reversing that trend.
Coontz notes, “Men without wives are much more likely to call their parents than their married peers.” And that may be true. But are they as likely to Skype? Or to return home to visit Grandma and Grandpa? Married couples, especially those with children, take steps to keep in touch with their parents.
Coontz also asserts, “Economically as well as emotionally, modern marriage has become like an affluent gated community. It has become harder for low-income Americans to enter and sustain.”
Exactly the opposite is true, of course. There’s a very low bar to enter marriage. And rather than closing a gate in front of low-income people, marriage is the key to lifting people out of poverty. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation writes:
According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2008 was 36.5 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.4 percent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 80 percent.
The problem is that, starting with the Great Society’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s, federal policy provided incentives that undermined marriage. Rector advises, “If society wishes to slow the growth of non-marital births and pregnancies, then the government must clearly communicate that, on average, having and raising children inside of marriage is more beneficial than having and raising a child outside of marriage.”
It’s no myth: Marriage is the building block of civil society.