A review of Families Without Fatherhood. By Norman Dennis and George Erdos.

Institute of Economic Affairs, 1992.

The debate about whether there are any deleterious effects of broken homes and fatherless families is pretty much over in America. Practically everyone, except the most hardened ideologues, has accepted the fact that fatherless families are almost always detrimental to children and society. Unfortunately, in Australia the debate continues, with academics, social scientists and government bureaucrats all claiming divorce barely hurts children, and that marriage has no obvious advantage over other forms of relationships.

In England the debate is beginning to swing America’s way, with an increasing segment of the intellectual community acknowledging that children do indeed suffer when fathers are absent, and that the traditional family of mum, dad and the kids, preferably bound by marriage, is the ideal.

This re-thinking which is under way in the UK is not limited to conservative circles. Norman Dennis, coauthor of this book, writes from a socialist perspective. And the author of the foreword, A.H. Halsey, is also a “lifelong leader of socialist thought”.

This book is based on the findings of two “typical large-scale studies”, one of which, the National Child Development Study, involved 17,000 children. These two representative studies clearly point in one direction: a child fares much better, by every indicator, if reared in a home where mother and father, married to each other, are found.

Halsey summarises the findings: “The children of parents who do not follow the traditional norm (i.e. taking on personal, active and long-term responsibility for the social upbringing of the children they generate) are thereby disadvantaged in many major aspects of their chances of living a successful life. On the evidence available such children tend to die earlier, to have more mental illness, to do less well at school, to exist at a lower level of nutrition, comfort and conviviality, to suffer more unemployment, to be more prone to deviance and crime, and finally to repeat the cycle of unstable parenting from which they themselves have suffered.”

When children grow up with these social pathologies, all of society suffers as a result. And when families break up, the problems can go on for generations. The experience of ghetto life in most large American cities is proof positive. Even left-liberals are acknowledging that this phenomenon of fatherless children may be the greatest social problem facing America today.

This book merely adds weight to this thesis while confirming the point made decades ago by George Gilder, that a growing threat to social stability is the increase in the number of undomesticated, unmarried and unmanageable single men.

Says Gilder, “In general, compared to others in the population, the single man is poor and neurotic. He is disposed to criminality, drugs, and violence. He is irresponsible about his debts, alcoholic, accident-prone, and susceptible to disease. Unless he can marry, he is often destined to a troubled and abbreviated life.”

Or as Dennis puts it, “young men who are invited to remain in a state of permanent puerility will predictably behave in an anti-social fashion”.

And of course these problems are passed on from generation to generation. In Black America, where 68% of children grow up without a father, the boys grow up with all the shortcomings and problems of their absent dads. Joining a gang is often the only way these young males can approximate a sense of family.

When Dan Quayle chastised TV character Murphy Brown for bearing a child out of wedlock, he was roasted by the liberal media. But this book, along with a host of others, makes it clear that Dan Quayle was right. Children suffer when not raised in a traditional family. And society suffers as well.

We need to re-examine our social policies as a result of such facts. Policies which encourage easy marriage and alternative lifestyles will simply add to the weights placed on a society whose family-based foundations are already weak. As Halsey puts it, “committed and stable parenting must be a priority of social policy”. Would that Paul Keating or Rosemary Crowley had ears to hear.

If several socialists in England can wade through the ideology and subterfuge to discover what most of us know by common sense, then perhaps there is hope for the Australian intelligentsia. Perhaps they too might come to realize that not all family structures are of equal value.

The nonsense which passed for the International Year of the Family should never have transpired. Instead of promoting marriage and family life, the Government encouraged alternative lifestyles including homosexual unions to share the spotlight. But as books like this make clear, such policies are a recipe for disaster.

Obviously the feminist lobby and other anti-family groups will try their best to suppress or ridicule the information contained in books such as this. But if this information can be widely disseminated, the wheels might begin to turn.

It should be noted in conclusion that the authors have not softened their views since the publication of this 1992 book. Writing in the June 1995 issue of the Salisbury Review, they continue to argue for the importance of marriage, fatherhood and family. The evidence still points in the same direction:

“On average the legitimate child brought up by both its married parents has higher chances than other children (except, very often, adopted children) of surviving, of not being subject to accidents in the home, of not being physically or sexually abused, of scoring more highly in measures of academic competence, of staying out of the hands of the law.”

The evidence is in: children need, and have a right to, married parents. For the sake of our children, it is a message we dare not neglect.

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