Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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The Social Evils of Divorce (Part 1)

          Pro-divorce legislators and pundits are hoping against hope that under the Duterte Administration they have a greater chance of advancing their cause, which abundant empirical evidence has demonstrated to have devastating consequences on society.  Those who would want to legalize divorce in the Philippines are wont to cite examples of acute sufferings of individuals, especially women, who are trapped in an unwanted marriage union.  They use highly emotional arguments about failed marriages inflicting damage on the spouses involved.  As they purport to give freedom to married couples to break their indissoluble bond in order to seek their happiness in a new marriage union, these advocates of divorce in the Philippines completely ignore some hard facts about the social evils of divorce in the United States, where divorce is rampant.

         I am glad that twelve years ago, in December 2004, more than seventy scholars from History, Economics, Psychiatry, Law, Sociology and Philosophy began a series of conversations in which they shared with one another the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as the permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.  This multidisciplinary effort arrived at a consensus to share the fruit of their collaboration with more and more experts in the social sciences.  They were convened by the Witherspoon Institute, an independent research center located in Princeton, New Jersey.  I have had the fortune of interacting with some of the participants that produced a publication entitled Marriage and the Public:  Ten Principles (ref. principles@winst.org). 

         Trying to cure the problem of failed marriage by legalizing divorce is literally jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  Let us learn from the sad experiences of the United States, one of the leading countries in divorce legislation.  From 1960 to 2000, the divorce rate more than doubled in the United States, from about 20 percent to about 45 percent of all first marriages.  The data suggests that approximately two-thirds of all divorces involving children actually break up low-conflict marriages where domestic violence or emotional abuse is not a factor in the divorce. This fact demonstrates that the mere possibility of divorcing conditions those entering marriage to be less careful in choosing the right partners or less assiduous in  keeping their marriage intact in the face of the normal challenges posed by the marital union. The sad consequence is that the children seem to bear the heaviest burden from the divorce of their parents.  Children from broken homes are significantly more likely to divorce as adults, to experience marital problems, to suffer from mental illness and delinquency, to drop out of high school, to have poor relationships with one or both parents, and to have difficulty committing themselves to a relationship. 

         Furthermore, in more respects, remarriage is no help to children of divorce.  Children who grow up in stepfamilies experience about the same levels of educational failure, teenage pregnancy, and criminal activity as children who remain in a single-parent family after a divorce.  Divorce is also associated with poverty, depression, substance abuse, and poor health among adults.  More broadly, widespread divorce poisons the larger culture of marriage, insofar as it sows distrust, insecurity, and a low-commitment mentality among married and unmarried adults.  Couples who take a permissive view of divorce are significantly less likely to invest themselves in their marriages and less likely to be happily married themselves  For all these reasons, divorce threatens marriage, hurts children, and has had dire consequences for the nation as a whole.  Clearly, Filipino legislators and opinion makers advocating for a divorce law have not considered the many social evils that such a law would inflict on Philippine society.

         The public consequences of legislating divorce are substantial.  U.S. social scientists have demonstrated with sufficient evidence that marital breakdown reduces the collective welfare of children, strains the justice system, weakens civil society, and increases the size and scope of governmental power.  Every year in the United States, more than one million children see their parents’ divorce and 1.5 million children are born to unmarried mothers.  The collective consequences of this family breakdown have been catastrophic, as demonstrated by myriad indicators of social well-being.  Let us consider child poverty.  One recent Brookings survey indicates that the increase in child poverty in the U.S. since the 1970s is due almost entirely to declines in the percentage of children reared in married families, primarily because children in single-parent homes are much less likely to receive much material support from their fathers. (To be continued.)