- American men are struggling in the workforce, in the classroom, and at home. Tweet This
- Many men have entered their adult lives without a wife and children to motivate them to work and sacrifice for something larger than themselves. Tweet This
- Reconnecting men to the fundamental institution of marriage is vital for their future and the nation’s. Tweet This
Earlier this month, my Senate office published a 40-page report on the challenges American men face in fulfilling their vital role as providers. The report’s findings, which will be revealing if unsurprising to readers of this blog, show a close connection between the problems that men face and the breakdown of marriage and family.
The topline takeaway from our report is that American men are struggling in the workforce, in the classroom, and at home. Their access to dignified work and their corresponding ability to provide a middle-class lifestyle for their families have evaporated. Millions of men have left the workforce altogether; the share of men without work is as large today as it was in 1940, during the depths of the Great Depression. Record-high rates of addiction, sadness, anxiety, and suicide have followed. All of this is exacerbated by the failure of our education system to develop the potential of boys and men and prepare them to access stable, gratifying careers.
The forces that have caused these problems are varied and widespread, from deindustrialization to mass immigration to the “college-for-all” bias in K-12 schools and consequent decline of vocational training. But one cause is especially nefarious: the decades-long, nationwide breakdown of marriage and family.
Starting in the 1960s and 70s, a series of cultural and social revolutions rocked the country. America’s supposed intellectuals proclaimed that a commitment to marriage and raising children was hopelessly outdated. Second-wave feminists characterized the traditional household as a patriarchal construct created to oppress and enslave women. Meanwhile, sexual revolutionaries like Hugh Hefner touted a new vision for masculinity, which effectively treated men as perpetual adolescents to put their own freedom and pleasure above the well-being of women and children.
This ideological cocktail was far from logically coherent, but it was potent, and it did tremendous damage to the family, the institution that the Founding Fathers called the “true origin of society.” Ironically, the effects were least pronounced among society’s left-wing elites. Cosmopolitan liberals who heaped the most scorn on “bourgeois” concepts of marriage, family, and fidelity largely retained traditional family patterns, although they began to marry later and have fewer children. The effects were far more striking and harmful for poor and working-class Americans, for whom marriage all but collapsed. Decades later, roughly 40% of births occur out-of-wedlock, and only half of children are raised by parents who marry and stay married at least until their child graduates high school.
If we do not give men the opportunity to work, marry, and succeed, we can expect further stagnation in their fortunes and further alienation between the sexes.
None of these outcomes are positive. Changing norms about marriage mean that many people fail to marry or marry too late to have as many children as they would like. More children are growing up without the stabilizing influence of a father. And many men have entered their adult lives without a wife and children to motivate them to work and sacrifice for something larger than themselves.
We see the consequences all around us. Men have lost the drive to work, and without involved fathers, many boys have grown up with low self-worth and poor self-understanding. Self-destructive, antisocial behaviors come readily in tow. One recent study by a Census Bureau economist estimates that as much as one quarter of the drop in men’s work over recent decades comes from declining marriage prospects for young men.
Polling data show that young adults value building a family anchored by marriage. If we want to help men recover their role as providers, we need to eliminate undue obstacles that are pushing them in other directions. This means getting rid of marriage penalties in the tax code, which can reduce a working-class couple’s annual income by as much as 30 percent. It means guaranteeing paid family leave by allowing new parents to “pull forward” Social Security benefits. And it means expanding the federal Child Tax Credit. My Providing for Life Act, for instance, would raise the tax break a family receives for each of its children from $2,000 per year to $3,500 (or $4,500 for children less than six years old).
The next step is to pave the way for more flexible work arrangements between parents. There is no reason why the government should incentivize fathers and mothers to both work full-time, especially since the more traditional “breadwinner” model remains the preference of the working class. But that is exactly what lavish funding for out-of-home child care and tax-advantaged retirement savings plans for out-of-home workers do: encourage mothers to spend less time with their children and more time in the workforce. Congress should enact reforms to place single-earner households on a similar financial footing as dual-earner households.
Pro-family policies are no panacea, of course. They must be coupled with a revitalized economy and cultural rejuvenation to effect lasting change. But by removing barriers and allowing more men to grow into the committed husbands and fathers they want to become, policymakers will do everyone a favor, because reconnecting men to the fundamental institution of marriage is vital for their future and the nation’s.
If we do not give men the opportunity to work, marry, and succeed, we can expect further stagnation in their fortunes and further alienation between the sexes. We must seek to avert that tragedy. I hope my office’s report will prompt more conversation and action on this important topic, because millions of Americans are counting on it.
Republican Marco Rubio represents Florida in the United States Senate.