THE WASHINGTON TIMES, JUNE 1, 2001
Titanic loss of family values
Weyrich was right about the culture war
By Robert Stacy McCain
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In February 1999, Paul Weyrich rocked the conservative world by declaring that the culture war was over and “family values” had lost.
“I no longer believe that there is a moral majority,” said Mr. Weyrich, a veteran conservative activist who first suggested the name “Moral Majority” for the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s organization. “I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually share our values.”
The causes of this defeat were not political, Mr. Weyrich explained, but “a cultural collapse of historical proportions.” Simply put, the 1960s counterculture had triumphed.
“If there really were a moral majority out there, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago,” Mr. Weyrich wrote in his now-famous letter in the wake of Mr. Clinton’s Senate acquital. He added that “what Americans would have found absolutely intolerable only a few years ago, a majority now not only tolerates but celebrates.”
The truth of Mr. Weyrich’s declaration was reinforced by a recent Census Bureau report showing the continued decline of the traditional family.
Married couples with children, who comprised 43 percent of American households in 1950, accounted for only 24 percent of American households in 2000. The number of “unmarried partner” households, meanwhile, increased by 72 percent in the past decade alone.
That report came just days after the Census Bureau reported that 33 percent of all births in 2000 were to unmarried women — an all-time high.
For decades, conservatives pointed to the thousands of refugees who fled communist regimes, proudly proclaiming that these desperate people had “voted with their feet” in rejecting Marxism-Leninism. Today, apparently, millions of Americans have “voted with their feet” in abandoning the traditional family.
There is no indication that this trend will be reversed. Indeed, today’s young Americans seem especially indifferent to traditional notions of marriage and morality.
Fact: In 1960, the median age at first marriage for U.S. women was 20. Today, it’s 25. For men, the median age at first marriage has gone from 22 in 1960 to 27 today. Yet researchers report that the average young American today first has sexual intercourse at age 17 or 18.
Judging from these statistics, then, most young people in this country will be “sexually active” (what the Rev. Falwell might call “fornicating”) for eight to 10 years before marrying. If that is true, what future can there be for the politics of “family values”?
Some might say that these young people are just “sowing their wild oats,” and that they will eventually settle down into “Ozzie and Harriet” lifestyles. Don’t bet on it.
Between 1960 and 1995, the percentage of American women aged 30-34 who had never married increased by 175 percent; in the same time frame, the percentage in the “never married” category more than doubled for women 35-39.
Like so many other trends, this one is most pronounced among the young. Women in their early 20s are emphatic in their rejection of marriage: Just 27 percent of women aged 20-24 were married in 1995, compared to 69.5 percent in 1960.
The trends for men are similar, with the “never married” category growing by 136 percent among men 30-34 between 1960 and 1995; whereas 45.8 percent of men 20-24 were married in 1960, only 16.7 percent of men in the same age group were married in 1995.
If young Americans are less likely to marry than Americans of a generation ago, they are also less likely to become parents.
Overall, U.S. fertility rates have declined by 43.6 percent since 1960 and — like the marriage trends — this decline is most pronounced among the young. The birth rate for women aged 20-24 decreased 56.5 percent between 1960 and 2000, according to the Census Bureau. For all the outcry over America’s “teen pregnancy crisis,” the teen birth rate is now 34.7 percent lower than it was in the final year of the Eisenhower administration.
As with the decline of marriage, some will try to dismiss the sagging U.S. birth rate by saying that young people are merely delaying parenthood — eventually, perhaps with the aid of fertility treatments, all these young women will become mothers. Again, don’t bet on it.
In fact, the birth rate for U.S. women aged 40-44 has declined by 55.5 percent since 1960. There were just 6.9 births per 1,000 women 40-44 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the proportion of American women aged 40-44 who were childless grew by 90 percent between 1976 and 1998.
In declaring that there was no longer a “moral majority,” Paul Weyrich was only admitting what has become increasingly obvious. With marriage and parenthood in decline, with more couples cohabitating and more children born out of wedlock, the future of “family values” looks dim indeed.