Skip to main content

To rebuild middle class, restore marriage

By David Frum, CNN Contributor
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 0031 GMT (0831 HKT)
Newlyweds await their wedding photos at the Little Chapel of the Flowers in Las Vegas on December 12, 2012.
Newlyweds await their wedding photos at the Little Chapel of the Flowers in Las Vegas on December 12, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Americans, particularly those under 30, increasingly support same-sex marriage
  • David Frum says the more pressing issue nationally is how to restore the role of marriage
  • Four of every 10 children are born to unmarried women, a worrying development, he says
  • Frum: Marriage improves economic prospects and education, reduces crime

Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and a post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002.

(CNN) -- The long debate on same-sex marriage is coming to an end. A plurality of Americans now support same-sex marriage; the figure is 63% among voters under 30. The rest is just a matter of time.

The end of the same-sex marriage debate does not, however, settle the problem of marriage in America. Not remotely. Among the 95% to 97% of Americans who are not gay, the institution of marriage continues to weaken -- with ominous consequences for the next generation.

David Frum
David Frum

About 40% of all the babies born in the United States are born to unmarried women. Just about everybody agrees that this is a worrying development.

As candidate Barack Obama told a Chicago church in 2008:

"(C)hildren who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Of course there are exceptions to every rule. On average, however, children born to unmarried women do worse in all kinds of important ways compared to children born to married couples. They are less likely to complete their schooling, more likely to get in trouble with the law, more likely to have children out of marriage themselves, less likely to achieve upward mobility. The data behind these claims are overwhelming, and not seriously contested by any social scientist -- although every once in a while, somebody will publish an article "in defense of single motherhood" that brusquely dismisses the evidence with Stephen Colbert style elan: " I am not a huge believer in studies."

Same-sex couples take long road to the altar

For those who do believe in social science, the question arises: what to do?

And here's where the looming end of the debate over same-sex marriage offers real hope.

Last week, the Institute for American Values published a major statement in The New York Times. Signed by 74 luminaries of widely diverse political points of view, it called for a "new conversation about marriage."

WWII love letters: 'Hard to see you go'
SCOTUS same-sex marriage reaction
Nelson: 'You get older, you get wiser'

"The current question is, Should gays marry? The new question is, Who among us, gay or straight, wants to strengthen marriage?" the statement asked.

The Institute for American Values is known as a conservative group. In recent years, its leader, David Blankenhorn, has reconsidered his past opposition to same-sex marriage.

This rethinking has cost IAV and Blankenhorn dearly. Board members have resigned, funding sources have been cut. Yet at breakfast two weeks ago in New York City, Blankenhorn was undaunted. The challenges that led him into the marriage debate two decades ago have only become more urgent.

As the IAV writes: "(M)arriage trends in middle America, particularly among the nearly 60 percent of Americans who've graduated from high school but do not have a four-year college degree, are more and more resembling the historic marriage trends in poor and low-income America." In other words, the middle-class family increasingly looks like the lower-class family -- at an economic moment when it is very easy to tumble out of the middle class and increasingly difficult to climb into it.

"In the wake of the Great Recession and in the midst of severe and possibly long-lasting economic challenges to our society, we propose a new conversation that re-establishes the link between marriage and money, the nest and the nest-egg. What economic policies strengthen marriage? What marriage policies create wealth? In the new conversation, marriage and thrift, the two great engines of the American middle class since the nation's founding, stand best when they stand together."

The United States is becoming an increasingly class-stratified society. The few at the top enjoy unprecedented affluence. The many in the middle and at the bottom face narrowing opportunities and declining standards of living. The dwindling of marriage is both cause and consequence of America's evolution away from a society of equal chances. The restoration of marriage is crucial to reviving the middle class and offering hope to the poor.

Marriage means two incomes at a time when most Americans find two incomes essential to earning a middle-class livelihood.

Marriage secures the active presence of fathers in children's lives.

Marriage means more asset accumulation: Married families save more at every income level.

Marriage means fewer accidents and illnesses, less stress, and more happiness and personal fulfillment.

Yet even as we reach a new social consensus about marriage's importance, marriage seems to have become increasingly elusive, difficult, and uncertain. It's time for all Americans, left and right, gay and straight, to join David Blankenhorn's "new conversation."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT