The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

It’s Wednesday, September 8th, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Motherhood and Marriage Disconnecting? The Surge of U.S. College-Educated Women Having Babies Outside of Marriage and What it Means

A couple of articles appeared in tandem in the Wall Street Journal, both appeared in yesterday’s print edition. Both of them tell us a great deal about the state of the family and of marriage and for that matter of the culture in these days. The two articles are not directly related, but it can hardly be coincidental that both of these articles landed in one of the nation’s most influential newspapers on the very same day. The first one is by Janet Adamy. The headline is this, “More college-educated women are having babies outside marriage.” Now, the second article has to do with the fact that there are so many young men who are not making it to college and are basically opting out of the so-called success sequence.

I don’t think these two stories are unrelated. But there is no organic relation between the two stories. They appeared in the same newspaper on the same day. But as we shall see, it is the underlying worldview concerns that help us to see why, even though there is no direct relationship indicated in the newspaper, there is a direct relatedness that is understandable by a worldview analysis. First of all, the article by Janet Adamy that has to do with the fact that we are told that more college educated women are having babies outside marriage. Adamy begins the article this way, “nearly a quarter of highly educated women in their mid-thirties had their first babies outside marriage, according to new research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Now, let’s be clear, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences represents a very elite academic journal.

It publishes peer reviewed research. We’re being told that this kind of research is to be trusted as indicative of the larger social trends to which it points. The lead researcher, in this case is sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University, and anyone working in the area of marriage and family knows that he has been one of the most published authorities in the field. But let’s not get over the moral shock in that headline. We’re being told that one of the trends that we should watch in our own culture is the fact that there are more college educated women having babies outside of marriage. Now, when you look at a headline like that, not one word is accidental, not one word is extra. And so even as this is an article about women, increasingly having babies outside of marriage, you’ll notice that it is college educated women who are right there in the headline.

So that tells us there’s something to this pattern in this story. Now, from the moral perspective, we are looking at the decline of marriage in our society at a velocity that basically represents a moral catastrophe. One of the first and primary understandings of the Christian is that marriage is not just a uniquely important social institution. It is the one singular means whereby God designed a man and a woman to come together and thus in society, the larger pattern of many men and many women coming together in the covenant of marriage representing not only that covenant relationship, but a relationship that is monogamous, that is fruitful. As in be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth is conjugal that is to say it is physical. And it is complimentary, which is to say that it is not by accident, that you have men and women made for each other.

But when you’re looking at the subversion of marriage in our society, all those trends and changes in moral pattern that we have seen in our society over the last several years are coming together. In this sense, the chickens are coming home to roost. The article in the Wall Street Journal citing that study at Johns Hopkins University tells us that the sharpest increase in those women who are having babies outside of marriage is amongst those women who have a bachelor’s degree or higher education. We are told right off in this article that about 24.5% of those women aged 32 to 38 “weren’t married when they had their first babies” that according to surveys from 2017 to 2018. But then comes this stunning sentence “that is a sixfold increase from 1996 when the share was 4% for that group.” So let’s just take stock of what we are being told here.

We’re being told that over the last 25 years, there has been a sixfold increase in the percentage of college educated women who have had their first baby outside of wedlock. Now, this is a cultural change of incredible proportions. This is a major reordering of our cultural and moral landscape. The Christians understand it’s more than that. This is a direct threat to the very nature of human relatedness. It is a subversion of God’s plan, and it is an intentional rejection of that plan that leads to a form of moral blindness. Because one of the things that becomes very clear in this article, one of the dimensions that is clear is that we are supposed to think this isn’t even a serious issue when it comes to morality. There is no serious moral issue here, this is just a sociological observation and wow, isn’t it interesting. To Christians committed to human flourishing and to a biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, and marriage and yes, we believe those two things go together in separably.

We understand that this is a deep injury to human society. This is the kind of moral injury from which it really isn’t likely that a society can rebound. There is no precedent, even in modern societies for this kind of widespread abandonment of marriage. And the separation of marriage from having children or to put it another way, having children intentionally without reference to marriage. In the Wall Street Journal article, Professor Cherlin says, “A generation ago, the percentage of college educated women having children outside of marriage was negligible.” But then he went on to say, “It’s no longer a rare event.” Now, the background of this study is the fact that Professor Cherlin has been looking at data from what’s known as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Also, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the National Survey of Family Growth.

Now, beyond that, it appears that Professor Cherlin has made projections based upon the data. He has also drawn in other data, but he goes on to make his own analysis. He said, and this is a very important sentence, “We might be seeing a trend toward a more European pattern of childbirth and marriage in which young adults have a child before marrying.” He went on to say that many of the couples in his study that did have a child outside of marriage later did get married but that is inverting the sequence. The sequence is entirely wrong. And by the way, if it is not important to be married before you have a child, then what is the moral argument for getting married after you have a child? Well, the big thing you come to see in this news report and in the survey underlying it is that these are basically lifestyle decisions.

They are decisions that are indicative of the kind of lifestyle or aspirations to a lifestyle that people want to have. The point is that there are many women who are now just giving up on marriage. Now to some degree, there is no doubt and absolute rejection of marriage. The second wave feminists, such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan described the domestic situation of the conventional American family with a mother and father married together and their children living with them in the home. Well, Betty Friedan infamously went so far as to call that picture, the picture of a domestic concentration camp. The second wave feminists just denied that marriage should be the central institution or even a central expectation in life. Furthermore, the sexual revolutionaries have done their best to separate sex from marriage to the point that now you also have the having of children rather routinely separated from marriage.

Now, one of the things we need to understand just in terms of historical observation, and this is common grace, Christians understand this. This is God’s plan showing itself evident throughout human history, even as God’s plan is evident throughout creation. One of the lessons of history is that societies require marriage and stable families in order to survive much less to thrive. But now we have this cult of autonomous individualism in the west, but in particular, in the United States reaching the point that you have people saying, “I really don’t need marriage at all, but I do want a baby.” So these women are saying, I’ll do without the husband, I’ll just have the baby one way or another. It’s also very interesting that Professor Cherlin pointed to this development in the United States and said, it could be that this represents American women following a more traditionally European pattern.

Now wait just a minute, traditional European pattern. Sex outside of marriage and having babies outside of marriage. Well, the reality is yes, if you’re talking about tradition being the second half of the 20th century. That’s because we have seen in the secularization of Europe and that’s the key issue that is missing from all of this data. In the secularization of Europe, we have seen a rejection of a Christian biblical ethic of sexuality, marriage, and gender. And now we’re being told that the United States, or at least many college educated women in the United States are following in the same pattern. Christians understand that’s because even more fundamental than the question of say, marriage or parenthood, having a baby is the fundamental theological assumptions. Not only shared by a society, but in particular held by individuals. The secularization of Europe and the eclipse of the authority of a Christian biblical morality, well, the secularization and the moral liberalism went hand in hand. And now we see the very same thing happening in the United States.

We know the secularization happened more slowly in the United States than in Europe, but as this report and so many others make clear, America is catching up fast. Both in the moral liberalism and in the secularization and you can’t have the one without the other. The kind of mentality, including this expressive autonomous individualism that is behind this chain shows up for instance, in the comments made by one woman identified as a New York City special education teacher with a master’s degree. According to the journal article, she was approaching age 30 when she decided she didn’t want to wait to get married to have a child. She said, “When I realized I was attracting the wrong men, and I really just wanted a child, I said, why not separate the two things. I had all my life to find love but I didn’t have all my life to find a child.”

The Journal then tells us, “Using a sperm donor, she conceived and gave birth to a baby boy shortly before her 30th birthday.” We’re then told that the woman who’s now 36 years old “eventually married and is now pregnant with her second child.” Although that marriage is in the process of dissolving, she said. Then we are told that she reported, “She is grateful that she became a mother on her own terms. “I felt like I had the freedom to have my son.” The big issue here, the autonomous individualism, which is a very toxic worldview, unsustainable, in terms of the biblical analysis, but this kind of autonomous, expressive individualism, such a toxic idea, shows up when we are told that this woman decided that she would become a mother on her own terms.

On her own terms, now that’s a shocking statement. Just imagine rewinding to just about any point in Western history or for that matter in human history and having people say, I have the right, I should have the freedom, I should have the absolute moral liberation to have a baby on my own terms. You’ll notice by the way that nature also set some terms. One of the realities we know is that the baby needs a mother and a father. But these days that is absolute heresy in the larger secular society.

Part II

The Aspirational Trajectory of a Secularized Culture: A Society that Subverts Marriage Will Celebrate Marriage-Less Child-Rearing — To Its Own Demise

The very same research is reported on in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, Rosa Silverman’s the reporter. The headline in this article is even more morally revealing, “How out of wedlock went from an insult to an aspiration.” An aspiration, there’s where we need to pause for a moment to recognize just how important aspiration is in the development of the modern individual and the modern society.

Aspiration is the representation of hope. Persons aspire to a certain kind of job, a certain kind of lifestyle, a certain kind of reputation, a certain kind of relationship. They aspire to be a part of a certain kind of society on a certain kind of terms. The direction of that aspiration is in so many ways, the moral direction of the entire society. We’re going to be taking a closer look at this on The Briefing in days and weeks and months to come. This aspirational trajectory is extremely important because it’s passed down through all the popular cultures, through advertising, through academia, through the messaging that comes from the society through government. This aspirational trajectory of the society is so important because people pick up on it when they are so young. Even school children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, not to mention college students, they pick up on the aspirational lessons of the larger society.

You should aspire to this kind of socialist team. You should aspire to have a part in this kind of society, to have this kind of job, to go to this kind of school, to hang with this kind of people, to have this kind of expressive sexuality. That aspirational trajectories exactly what’s reflected in this headline. We are told that having babies without reference to marriage out of wedlock is the language used in this article and traditionally so, how that went from an insult to an aspiration. What was once a statement of moral censure and condemnation is now an aspiration. People actually now brag about what once caused embarrassment and shame. Silverman quotes Professor Cherlin, as saying that many young adults “may postpone or forgo marriage until, and unless they’ve attained certain economic markers such as home ownership or an income comparable to the married couples around them.”

Now, by the way, that is simply something that is observational these days. Many people who are severed from the Christian conscience or from a Christian understanding of gender, sexuality, and marriage, now see marriage, something that you add to the good life. Not the foundation of the life to which they aspire but just something that is nice, if you can afford it. But as Professor Cherlin notes here, the afforded part is not compared to say even how a couples parents got started out, but rather as they compare themselves to marry couples and the society around them. In other words, they have to achieve the financial status before they decide to achieve the marital status. And by the way, the marital status is no longer till death do us part. It is now just until one or both of us agrees we don’t want to do this any longer.

The article by the way, goes on to say that for so many of these younger adults having a baby outside of wedlock, which of course also implies at least in the general pattern, having sexual relations outside of wedlock. Speaking of marriage, Silverman writes, “My millennial generation and those born after it, don’t appear to see it as the non-negotiable starting point at once was. For the most part, we face no stigma for having a baby first.” She goes on to say, consider the language, I’m not going to repeat some of the language she says we should consider. But the point she’s making is that what was once an issue of moral judgment is now a matter of moral bragging rights. Pointing to having the baby without regard to marriage outside of marriage, as something of a moral achievement, rather than as the breaking of a moral principle.

But the point we need to recognize right now is that this is a major moral shift. It is the acceleration of a process of a pattern we have seen developing over the last several decades. And it is right now reaching something of a warp speed as Professor Cherlin indicates that in just 25 years, the percentage of women as indicated in this study with college degrees, having a baby outside of wedlock has gone up from about four percent. Professor Cherlin referred to that as negligible, statistically speaking to almost 25%. from less than one out of five to now virtually one out of four, that is massive. But it also tells us that in this expressive individualism and moral liberalism as marriage is eclipsed, we should expect as Christians, there will be dire effects. There will be dire consequences. For one thing, the subversion of marriage means not only the separation of children from married parents, but in so many cases, the separation of children from any kind of parental structure that is stable. And in many cases, the separation of children from their fathers, that shows up big time in the next story.

Part III

A Generation of American Young Men, Lost and in Crisis — And Not in College

As I said, the two articles appeared both in yesterday’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal. The second one is a much larger article just in terms of text and space than the first. This articles by Douglas Belkin, and again, the headline, a generation of American men give up on college: “I just feel lost.” Belkin reports, “Men are abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels.” The only real qualifier there is record levels. The fact is that for well over a decade now, the entering classes in American colleges and universities has been overwhelmingly female rather than male. And of course this is a direct change, an absolute reversal of the pattern of just several decades ago. Not to mention the fact that if you go back to the beginning of the century, higher education in America would have been if not exclusively than overwhelmingly a male experience.

But this article in the Wall Street Journal is emphatically important because it is absolutely honest and pointing out that the big picture here is not the entry of young women into the academic setting, it is the withdrawal or the retreat of young men from that same setting. It is not that there are too many women showing up for higher education in America, it is put bluntly, there are just too few young men. There are too few boys who are now aspiring, there’s that word again, planning and strategizing as to how they will plot their life with college, very much a part of that equation. And even though some individuals will do very well without that college education. The fact is that if you just look at national studies, the data turned out to be very clear. And that is the fact that if you have a college degree, a baccalaureate degree, it is statistically likely that you will earn $1 million more over the course of your working career than if you lack that degree.

Again, there are exceptions, but the point of exceptions is they are exceptions. The article sides, Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, who said that in the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man if the trend continues. The next sentence, “No reversal is insight.” The article cites Thomas Mortenson, a scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, who said, “Men are falling behind remarkably fast.” And looking at the research, it is abundantly clear. And by the way, you don’t just have to look at the research, just look at the entering class of your local college or university. Your eyes will tell you the story. Go into the classroom of most colleges and universities, your own eyes will tell you the story. Men are falling behind remarkably fast.

And for that matter, boys are falling behind before they reach the age of entering college. So many boys simply aren’t prepared, they’re outside the success sequence even by the time they reach early adolescence. They are just falling behind girls in academic aptitude, in scholarship. But not only that, just in attentiveness to the kinds of things that you have to do as a student in order to be successful, even in following through with the application process. One of the issues may clear in this article is that college admissions programs are having to reach out to the moms of teenage boys in order to basically harangue the moms into making certain that their sons turn in even the most basic requirements of the application in order that they might eventually be accepted and approved and become students but even that isn’t working. If you go on the campus of the average undergraduate institution, the entering class is at least about 60% women, about 40% men.

But then you look at the graduation numbers and those are even more starkly divided. By the time you get to graduation in a reasonable amount of time, you’re not talking about 60/40, more females than men in that proportion. You’re looking at something that is remarkably higher in terms of the percentage of women who graduate as compared to the number or the percentage of men who graduate. Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but it is interesting that even in this article, in the Wall Street Journal, there is the acknowledgement that the absence of fathers is almost certain to have something to do with this, the weakening of the family. There are so many heroic mothers out there who are doing their very best to raise children by themselves for any number of reasons. There are any number of women who are seeking heroically to raise their boys into functioning, responsible, mature young men.

But the reality is that societies have learned going all the way back, yes, to creation that the successful raising of boys takes men. And you have the family unit, which by God’s design was to be a mother and a father raising their children. And of course that can be interrupted by death, it can be interrupted by military service, it can be interrupted by any number of unfortunate events. But the reality is these days as the first story of our consideration made clear, there are many people who are now entering into this entire process without any intention of marrying or staying married. These days, you can get into a lot of trouble in the public square, just for stating the obvious because the obvious has considered on the one hand to be injurious to those who are outside of the optimal picture as presented by Scripture, the ideal.

But on the other hand, if you don’t preach the ideal, the Christian church loses its affirmation of, its teaching of, its expectation of that ideal. We will reap the consequences of rejecting what we know to be true, rejecting the wisdom, not only of creation, the wisdom of God’s word, that’s something, the church can’t do. The church ministers to all people and seeks to help all families and whatever situation they are, but the church can never fail to hold up the biblical ideal of marriage and the biblical standard of the family, the picture of the family that is given to us, which is of course an expansive definition. But it is never intended to be smaller than the union of a man and a woman in marriage and the children that come to them through their marital relationship and by adoption. There are of course larger kinship structures, but those are only sustainable over time if that basic molecular unit of the marriage and the family are intact.

Furthermore, societies have learned over time that it takes a particular level of social investment and yes of moral concern and yes of parental involvement and yes of fatherly presence in order successfully to raise boys in the success sequence to get to young manhood. And in order for them to reach that in a stage of maturity and responsibility. I mean, after all we’re being told here that many of these boys are losing hope and falling out, they lack even the basic skills of following through with filling out an application and getting their records in. But we have to bring today’s consideration of the briefing to close. And I want to do it by saying that as you look at the Wall Street Journal yesterday, you would find these two articles. But how many readers would read the one article and then the next and draw no conclusion that actually they are inextricably linked.

Christians have to understand, of course they are linked. When you talk about the reality of so many women deciding that they’re going to have children outside of marriage, that’s going to have consequences. And by the way, it is something of a chicken and egg situation. When you look at the deficit of boys and young men growing into maturity and entering the success cycle, you look at that and you say, well, there are probably fewer young men available for at least some women who be looking for young men to marry. But Christians must also remember that we’re looking not only at a social pattern that we know will weaken the culture writ large. We’re also talking about injury that comes to individual human beings, and we care about them as well. The point is not to end on a note of pessimism, although there is absolutely no evidence to expect that a society can long survive this subversion of the basic structure of creation, the institution of marriage and the responsibility of parenthood as a shared project of a married couple, there is no evidence to give us any hope for that.

But then again, sometimes the responsibility, the Christian church is to teach the truth redemptively, courageously convictionally, pastorally, lovingly, but at the same time boldly, not just because we know it is a counter argument to the larger secular trends, but because we believe that it both honors God and brings about human flourishing, the good of human beings, young and old. The larger society is rejecting that biblical wisdom as a matter of pride and arrogance. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ had better hold to it without apology and understand what’s at stake.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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