Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Social Evils of Divorce (Part 2)

          Divorce also has devastating consequences on adolescents as they go through the most difficult period of their lives from the psychological standpoint.  Penn State sociologist Paul Amato estimated how adolescents would fare if the U.S. society had the same percentage of two-parent biological families as it did in 1960. His research indicates US adolescents would have 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, 1 million fewer acts of delinquency or violence, 746,587 fewer repeated grades, and 71,413 fewer suicides.  Similar estimates could be done for the collective effect of family breakdown on teen pregnancy, depression, and high school drop out  rates.  The conclusion is clear:  children have paid a heavy price for adult failure to get and stay married.

         Public safety and the U.S. justice system have also been affected by the retreat from marriage.  Even though crime rates have fallen in recent years, the percentage of the population in jail has continued to rise: from 0.9 percent of the population in 1980 to 2.4 percent in 2003, which amounts to more than 2 million men and some.  Public expenditures on criminal justice—police, courts, and prisons—rose more than 350 percent in the last 20 years, from $36 billion in 1982 to $167 billion in 2001.  Empirical research on family and crime strongly suggests that crime is driven in part by the breakdown of marriage George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, argues that the crime increase in the 1970s and 1980s was linked to declines in the marriage rate among young working-class and poor men.  Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson concludes from his research on urban crime that murder and robbery rates are closely linked to family structure.  In his words, “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States. The close empirical connection between family breakdown and crime suggests that increased spending on crime-fighting, imprisonment, and criminal justice in the United States over the last 40 years is largely the direct or indirect consequence of marital breakdown.

         Public spending on social services has also risen dramatically since the 1960s, in large part because of increases in divorce and illegitimacy.  Estimates vary regarding the costs to the taxpayer of family breakdown, but they clearly run into the many billions of dollars. One study of the think tank Brookings Institute found that the retreat from marriage was associated with an increase of $229 billion in welfare expenditures from 1970 to 1996.  Another study found that local, state, and federal government spend $33 billion per year on the direct and indirect costs of divorce—from family court costs to child support enforcement to TANF and Medicare. Increases in divorce also mean that family judges and child support enforcement agencies play a deeply intrusive role in the lives of adults and children affected by divorce, setting the terms of custody, child visitation, and child support for more than a million adults and children every year.    It is very predictable that when the family disintegrates, the government steps in to pick up the pieces.

         The link between the size and scope of the State and the health of marriage as an institution stands out even more when one looks at trends outside the United States.  Countries with high rates of illegitimacy and divorce, such as Sweden and Denmark, spend much more money on welfare expenditures, as a percentage of their GDP, than countries with relatively low rates of illegitimacy and divorce, such as Spain and Japan.  Although there has been no definitive comparative research on state expenditures and family structure and despite that factors such as religion and political culture may confound this relationship, the correlation between the two is suggestive. 

            Considering all these findings of scholars in the U.S., it would be advisable for the Philippines to proudly remain as a no-divorce country, even if it is the only one in the world.  The legalization of divorce will surely open a pandora’s box, leading to a spiral of divorces even among numerous small-conflict marriages.  There is always a slippery slope from the hard cases being cited by the proponents of divorce to other less conflicted marriages because there is a human tendency to take the easy way out.  I can compare this to what happened in the U.S. when the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the Roe Vs. Wade Case.  It was supposed to be only in extreme cases of rape and only for the first weeks of life of the fertilized ovum.  The slippery slope has become a reality:  now, even fully formed babies about to be born can still be killed.  There are now millions of abortion every year in the U.S.   Start with the extreme cases of wife abuse that the bleeding heart proponents of divorce are citing.  Before we know it, there will be millions of divorces in the Philippines, causing so much sufferings to children and forcing society to spend billions of pesos to mitigate the negative consequences of the breakdown of marriages.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.