“GLOBAL FLIGHT FROM THE FAMILY”
That’s the headline of a Wall Street Journal piece last weekend, reporting the startling demise of the family as we know it, not only here in the United States but in Europe and Asia as well. “All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. . . . Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth” (WSJ February 21-22, 2015, A11). Consider these statistics: • As of 2013 according to the Centers for Disease Control “40% of babies in the U.S. were born outside of marriage.” • The Census Bureau for 2014 estimates that “27% of all children (and 22% of ‘White’ children) lived in a fatherless home.” • A 2011 study reported “just 59% of all American children (and 65% of ‘Anglo’ or non-Hispanic white children) lived with married and biological parents as of 2009.” • In Europe “the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance for divorce for those who do marry has been soaring.” • In Belgium “the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five.” • In Europe “the proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four in Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three.” • “In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%.” • In Japan “about one-sixth of Japanese women in their mid-40s are still single, and about 30% of all women that age are childless. Twenty years hence 38% of all Japanese women in their mid-40s would be childless, and an even higher share—just over 50%—would never have grandchildren.” • South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong—the statistics mirror those above. • Even in less affluent Muslim-majority societies “a flight from marriage within the Arab world is in process,” indicating “high levels of income and educational attainment are not preconditions for the new family revolution in those spots on the globe it hasn’t reached.” And who will suffer the most in this social revolution? Our children and our aged. The WSJ report concludes: “Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But . . . it is far from clear that humanity is prepared to cope with the consequences of its impending family deficit, with [its] increasing independence [from] those traditionally most dependent on others—i.e., the young and the old” (emphasis supplied). A global shift from sacrificing for the sake of others to caring only for one’s self. Must it come to this? The Old Testament ends with this provocative prophecy: “‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents’” (Malachi 4:5-6). This prediction of a global movement to repair and restore the family clearly presupposes endtime forces bent on destroying the divine edenic ideal of the nuclear family. The statistics are sobering, but God speaks a “last word” into the crisis. Could you and I become part of that restorative “last word?” Could we by our compassion and proactive care for the young and aged be instrumental in God’s effort to save not only the most vulnerable, but to save the family itself? Clearly, we can’t just sit here and do nothing, can we? So what shall we do?