Declining Faith and Weakening Marital Ties Hold Back America's Least Fortunate

A new class system has formed in America that is locking millions of our fellow citizens into a cycle of poverty, dependency, substance abuse, and loneliness. And without urgent action, millions more will share a similar fate.

This growing class divide does not fall along racial, religious, ethnic, or gender lines. Rather it is the result of a growing rejection in America of once universally-held cultural norms—namely marriage, industriousness, and religious observance—that play a direct role in whether a person succeeds in a free and open society.

Unlike anything else, these institutions strengthen what social scientists like Charles Murray and Robert Putnam call social capital—the relationships, community bonds, and feelings of connectedness among people that make a society function.

Before we can address major public policy and political challenges like government dependency, drug and substance abuse, and lack of economic mobility, we must first tackle the cultural norms that drive growing disparities among Americans in the first place.

Take the decline in marriage and growing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births.

Social science research shows overwhelmingly that married couples are better off than their single counterparts in nearly every aspect of life—from economic mobility and education to overall happiness and well-being. Marriage, as it turns out, is key to achieving the American Dream.

Similarly, children born into a married home are far more likely to graduate high school, avoid substance abuse, stay out of jail, gain and hold employment, rise economically and professionally, and maintain healthier relationships.

Today, the median age in the U.S. of first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men—up from 20 for women and 22 for men in 1960. Some are simply rejecting marriage outright. According to Pew Research, 25 percent of millennials are likely to never marry—the highest share in modern history.

Over 43 percent of all children born in the U.S. were born out-of-wedlock. Many of these children will never have the consistent presence of a father actively involved in their life.

Those born into these homes remain most likely to struggle educationally, behaviorally, economically, with substance abuse, and with crime. Indeed, a CDC study revealed that 85 percent of children in juvenile detention come from fatherless homes.

Without significant cultural changes that bolster human- and soul-forming institutions like marriage and family stability, any attempt at public policy reform at the local, state, and federal level will be unsuccessful.