“Uncomfortable Truths about Family Breakdown”



This ancient Greek family wasn’t modeled on “Ozzie and Harriet”


Some marriages are unsustainable.  That’s obvious.


However, even in justifiable cases, a price is paid.  And the failure to marry at all, especially when young children are involved, often incurs serious costs:




This is a principal justification for government policy that solid favors marriage.  And it’s a principal reason why tinkering with the institution of marriage — an institution far older and far more basic than any modern law, including the Constitution of the United States — and even redefining it, ought to be approached with humility and extreme caution.


At the least, such matters deserve open and honest discussion.  Bumper-sticker slogans, caricatures, and straw men don’t help much.  Not really.


This ancient Egyptian family probably wasn’t based on the idealized American model of “Father Knows Best”



  • Brock Lesnar

    Dan Peterson wrote: ”

    However, even in justifiable cases, a price is paid. And the failure to marry at all, especially when young children are involved, often incurs serious costs..This is a principal justification for government policy that solid favors marriage.”

    The above statement, is just one of the many reasons the government is, and will continue to mandate SSM throughout the land.

    • DanielPeterson

      The question is whether SSM constitutes an extension of marriage or a dilution and a weakening of it.

      Slogans won’t answer that question. They don’t even count as valid evidence.

      • Brock Lesnar


        I agree that is certainly one of the questions.

        I think if current LDS attitudes are any indication, then many LDS feel SSM is a much needed extension of marriage to include more of God’s children.

        According to a recent poll by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, 54 percent of Mormons now favor civil unions for same-sex couples.

        In any event, gay marriage is here to stay.That’s actually a pretty good slogan, if I do say so myself.

        • DanielPeterson

          Civil unions and same-sex marriage aren’t the same thing.

          I, for example, support some form of civil union, but I oppose same-sex marriage.

          • Brock Lesnar

            Dan wrote:

            “I oppose same-sex marriage”

            Eventually, you will find out for yourself that SSM marriage does not diminish marriage, but honors it by mirroring its faithfulness, commitment and love.

            Times change, Dan. What was right in centuries past is wrong today, and what was wrong then is right now. We all see through a glass, darkly.

            Neither the Constitution, scriptures or the LDS faith is changed in the slightest by SSM. You’ll live to see the day that I’m right. I promise. Until then, it’s time to get on the love train.

          • DanielPeterson

            I don’t share your faith in this matter, and regard such slogans as “the love train” as, frankly, silly substitutes for thinking.

            I lived through the sixties. Much of the “love” talk during that era was flatly fraudulent.

            But, if I’m going to be on any “train,” I would prefer to share the one that the First Presidency and the Twelve are on.

          • Brock Lesnar


            Speaking of corny slogans, I prefer to be on the Jesus train myself.

            The leadership is simply wrong on this issue, as they have been wrong on numerous other issues in the past.

            I know it’s hard for some LDS to admit, but our leaders are men and fallible at times. They have been wrong and have made mistakes. This is one of those issues where they are speaking with limited light and knowledge.

            I prefer riding the love train with my Savior, than riding the train of fear, prejudice and misunderstanding. Wow, that would make a pretty good bumpersticker.

          • DanielPeterson

            And a bumpersticker is all it’s worth.

          • rockyrd

            Your Savior isn’t on that love train. It’s not fear, prejudice and misunderstanding, It’s enlightenment that goes beyond what most of our current society can see. It is not that there is no sympathy for gay individuals. I am all for their civil rights including civil unions. I stop short of gay marriage. If you are willing to examine this issue deeply you’ll find it goes far beyond a mere fight for equally.

          • kiwi57

            Brock Lesnar: “Speaking of corny slogans, I prefer to be on the Jesus train myself.”

            Don’t tell me, let me guess: you’re one of those who imagines that Jesus was a “Hey man, peace and love” kind of 1st century hippie, right?

            Well here’s the thing, Brock: when the woman taken in adultery was brought to Jesus, he didn’t say, “Follow your joy.” He said, “Go thy way and sin no more.”

            Brock Lesnar: “The leadership is simply wrong on this issue, as they have been wrong on numerous other issues in the past.”

            And you know so much better than them, do you?

            Well, I for one am convinced that they are right. So I’m going to follow the apostles, not the apostates.

            You like “thinking” in bumper-sticker slogans; there’s one for you.

          • s32fan

            “faithfulness, commitment”

            Heh. That gave me a laugh. The term ‘monogamish’ wasn’t coined without a reason… Homosexual “divorce” rates still put heterosexuals to shame, and they’re already doing quite badly at that as it is.

          • mike

            Society is changed, as are the scriptures and the LDS faith, when the basic concept of gender is eroded to a state without meaning.

          • rockyrd

            Same sex relationships are much less stable than conventional marriages and families. We are seeing a social experiment imposed on our families and children. They do NOT need to be experimented on. I don’t see how you can call that a “love train.” if this was about mere “equality,” I’d be at the front of the line marching for it. It’s not.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            This is interesting. Same sex marriage occurs in addition to heterosexual marriage; children are adopted and have opportunities that they may never have had otherwise, since there are most certainly an endless mass of children who are never adopted by anyone.

            Can anyone say that the life of a child living in a home where they are loved by a same sex couple are living in evil, when they are snatched from extreme poverty in some third world garbage heap and given a life of hope?

            Even assuming that same sex marriages fail at a higher rate than traditional marriages, many do succeed, and children raised within those marriages succeed as well. And those who succeed add to and do not detract from human flourishing.

            Social experiments have occurred within the arena of children’s rights, women’s rights, enslaved people’s rights, and worker’s rights in the past several centuries. At each turn, there were those apologists who brought out scripture to denounce the forward movement of civil rights. They were wrong, as they are today.

          • rockyrd

            Lucy, I always enjoy the enthusiasm of your posts although I often disagree as I do now. I think you have a good heart.

            Most children with same sex parents are not pulled out of a third world garbage heaps, they are the children of one or the other adults in the relationship. No one would like children to remain in a third world garbage heap and you have tried to put words in my mouth by using the term “evil.”

            Statistically, those in same sex relationships have less stability, with lesbian relationships being half as likely to endure as gay men. Alcohol abuse, drug use and STDs are more likely in same sex relationships. While my heart weeps for the difficulties and pain this debate stirs on both sides, I want the best for our children: a stable home with father and mother present. That (meaning stable) in itself is none to common these days. We don’t need to compound the difficulties.

          • kiwi57

            Brock Lesnar: “Eventually, you will find out for yourself that SSM marriage does not diminish marriage, but honors it by mirroring its faithfulness, commitment and love.”

            Its “mirroring” is a parody at best. Same-sex “marriage” “honors” real marriage by mocking it.

            And same-sex pairings will continue to be every bit as transient as they’ve always been.

            The intention is to produce what the “gay” opinion leaders call a “post-marriage society.”

            I don’t believe there are any Latter-day Saints who actually think that would be a good thing.

            No good ones, anyhow.

  • jafnhar

    I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest that the solution might be big government socialism. Last night I watched a film called An Education. My wife picked it out based on the actress – I had no idea what It was about going in, and the plot isn’t so important here in any case, but one subtext of the film was boring middle class life in British suburbs in the early 60s and how awful it was. Besides that the film had a particular historical setting, the whole vibe seemed out of date. When I was a kid that critique maybe made some sense, but nowadays a row house and a boring job don’t sound half bad. What I’m saying is, you can’t have middle class life without a middle class. That implication is made in the NR article but not so explicitly and I wonder if the reason isn’t because it would then follow that the government shouldn’t just do more to promote marriage, but also do a lot more (a hell-of-a-lot more) to promote full and stable employment at the expense of the investor class. Government jobs. Union jobs. Whatever would provide for a family in a decent home. That’s how you’ll improve the fortunes of american marriage – by improving the fortune of american families.

    • kiwi57

      That’s an interesting proposition.

      But here’s the question: how do you propose to fund it?

      • jafnhar

        Soak the rich. Back in the 50s and 60s upper- bracket tax rates were out of this world. I would suggest that there’s a connection between that and the stable middle-income families of the era.

        • kiwi57

          Unfortunately, class warfare cannot be sustained in the long term. When the rewards for taking risks are no greater than the rewards for working 9-to-5 jobs, people stop taking risks. Punish the “investor class” and everyone stops investing.

          Back in the 50s and 60s the US economy was relatively isolated; the hated rich were a captive flock, penned up for shearing. Nowadays if you punish success, successful people will move more than just their factories offshore.

          • jafnhar

            And good riddance to them. They contribute nothing other than schemes to suck the life out of local economies. Let them move to Monaco.

          • kiwi57

            I’m sorry, but that is ideological marxist bilge.

            They contribute the investment that keeps the economy ticking.

            Please understand that, in the final analysis, the market economy is the only economy there is. The public sector, for all the good it might do if run well (which it rarely is) is essentially non-productive. As such, it cannot fund itself, but is economically parasitic.

            Fully socialist economies, like North Korea and the former Soviet Union, kill the golden goose and then cannot understand why there are no more eggs. (Which is, incidentally, what you seem to be suggesting. It’s an idiotic program that always fails.) By contrast, fabian socialist economies grudgingly allow the golden goose to live, but seize an inordinate share of the eggs. They can prosper only as long as there is a thriving market economy strong enough to support them.

            The real economy is the movement of goods and services; money is just the lubricant that allows goods and services to move. Economies that make war upon the “investor class” don’t run out of money, because the government controls the supply; they just run out of goods and services to purchase. The money has no value. Governments, you see, can print fictitious money, but they can’t command it to have value. That’s why command economies always fail.

            People “employed” in non-productive make-work jobs might get paid the same as people in real jobs, but only the people in real jobs provide anything that anyone wants to buy.

            Socialism is proof that self-styled “skeptics” have an inexhaustible capacity for faith in unproven concepts. Socialism has comprehensively failed, everywhere and every time it has been tried, but supposedly rational unbelievers can’t dispose of their starry-eyed illusions about it.

          • jafnhar

            But socialism didn’t fail and hasn’t failed. There was a time when standards of living were higher in North Korea than in South Korea. Can you explain that? There are these other types of “socialist” economies like Denmark that have no such trouble and are quote desirable ways is doing things, but we’ll come back to them, because I don’t want to defend North Korea. I want to defend the historical legacy of the USSR. World you prefer to be a median Russian in 1860 out 1960? I think the obvious answer is that 1960 would be preferable. Other than the more spectacular accomplishments of the USSR (a sizable portion in the defeat of fascism, first man in space, etc) that jump in education and standards of living counts as a significant accomplishment of the USSR and I think it’s clear that the Romanovs weren’t up to creating the kind of middle class culture that dominated Russia from the 1950s to 1990, when the system – as all systems do – fell apart. Indeed, our economic system has been falling apart too. That’s why marriage is falling apart. You can’t have a family without stable income and the masters of the economy have been undermining employment stability for years.

            That’s not to say that I think we should implement Soviet style reforms in the US. Obviously not. But we need to think pretty hard about how we do things where our alliances are, and what it is we’re trying to achieve. In particular, the alliance between economic and social conservatives makes very little sense to me. The one works to undermine families while the other purports to support them.

            In other words: preaching family values is useless. People want familys and their values. You’re preaching to the choir here in America. What we need is a solution to the crisis odd the middle class. Because if western liberalism doesn’t have a solution, fascism and communism sure do.

          • jafnhar

            Writing on a phone. Sorry.

          • DanielPeterson

            Denmark isn’t a socialist state, jafnhar. It’s a mixed economy.

            Still, I’m fascinated to see a real Soviet apologist here. I had thought that such creatures were extinct.

            The death total in the Soviet Gulag between 1918 and 1956 is typically estimated at between fifteen and thirty million. And that, of course, doesn’t include such minor hiccups as the 1932-1933 “Holodomor,” often called the Ukrainian “terror-famine,” in which 2.4-7.5 million people were starved to death.

            You seem to agree with Mr. Stalin’s reputed comment that, “in order to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.”

            Do you have any kind words for the impressive economic achievements of Hitler’s Germany? Some of the Nazi concentration camps were quite productive.

          • jafnhar

            Indeed, Denmark, like all economies, is a mixed economy. Hence the quotes around “socialist” above. I was using the term in the usage currently popular to, as I perceive it, refer to any sort of significant economic activity or regulation by a government.

            As to Hitler’s Germany: yes. Impressive economic achievements are impressive economic achievements. It was a mixed record to be sure, but on the eve of WWII, German unemployment was down and wages were up. I know it’s a favorite nostrum of right-wingers to say “oh,but you know Hitler was a socialist” And “Hitler built the Autobahn” is a poor excuse for the holocaust, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with building the Autobahn. Low unemployment through public works is morally neutral. What you do with the infrastructure is not morally neutral, but you don’t have to invade Poland and murder Jews just because you built up your infrastructure and eliminated unemployment.

            And yes, I think it is manifestly obvious that making omelets requires breaking eggs, as the saying goes. One can point to any number of eggs that have been broken and are being broken in our own society. Mass imprisonment resulting from the drug war is the first thing that comes to mind. Historically, the homestead act was as big as big government socialist projects go. And that required breaking a few eggs.

            The point here is not to say that kicking natives off the land and handing it over to white settlers with wives and families was a great thing to do. But it was a thing to do and it contributed to building up a middle class, family-based society. Likewise, the point is not to apologize for the gulag or the holocaust, because the problem with Hitlerism was neither nationalism nor socialism per se. It was Hitler. The same is, mutatis mutandis, mostly true for the USSR too.

            You say you want a society friendly to marriage and that the government should support marriage. Fine. I only say that you aren’t willing to think through what it takes to build and maintain a society in which marriage and family life are sustainable institutions. Which eggs and how many would you be willing to break to achieve that society? That’s not a rhetorical question. Wealth redistribution is central to American marriage and middle class life.. And don’t worry! We don’t have to round up the 1% and put them in labor camps. Just implement higher tax rates. If they want to go, let them go. They already store all their money off shore anyway and what nation needs citizens like that?

          • DanielPeterson

            Manifest economic and historical nonsense, jafnhar.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Utah, one of the most conservative and religious states in the nation, has a divorce rate slightly higher than the U.S. average of 3.4/1000. Irreligious European nations show a divorce rate lower than Utah almost across the board. Keep in mind that it has been offered, that religion is good for families, and yet, the stats don’t show it. Perhaps we’ll next learn that crime in irreligious Europe far exceeds crime in the Christian world…..but don’t hold your breath.

    • kiwi57

      Lucy Mcgee: “Irreligious European nations show a divorce rate lower than Utah almost across the board.”

      Is that divorce rate based upon the whole population, or the population of married couples?

      I ask that because, hypothetically, if only 10% of the population is married to start with, 25% of married couples getting divorced looks like a measly 2.5% divorce rate when measured against the whole population.

      How does that saying go again, about “Lies, damned lies and statistics?”

      • Lucy Mcgee

        The marriage and divorce stats are shown as a rate per 1000 of the entire population. So you are of course correct that if a smaller percentage of Scandinavians were married, the actual divorce numbers would be greater. So the next step would be to find data which shows the percentage of married Scandinavians and normalize these rates to those numbers.

    • somersault

      Oh goodie, numbers. Numbers are great because they don’t lie -

      From the National Center for Health Statistics at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/mardiv.htm

      For 2011 stats, marriage and divorce averages (per 1000 – probably a typo by you):

      US Marriage: 6.8
      US Divorce: 3.6
      Divorce rate: ~53%

      Utah Marriage: 8.6
      Utah Divorce: 3.7
      Divorce rate: ~43%

      So as you can see, numbers don’t lie… unless you hide other numbers. You probably didn’t mean ‘rate’ as much as ‘quantity’? But I have a feeling that your extrapolations were made before researching the statistics.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        Please explain how you come up with a divorce rate using marriage and divorce rates per 1000.

        • somersault

          Whoops. I was actually wrong on the idea of ‘rate’ (it’s what happens when you post late at night).

          You are of course correct in your assertion that the divorce rate (unit per unit) is higher in Utah (3.7/1000 vs 3.6/1000). However the *ratio* is lower (divorces per marriages). The ratio is usually always more important because it normalizes the starting data.

          Basic formula is as follows:
          rate 1: unit 1 / common unit
          rate 2: unit 2 / common unit

          ratio: rate 1 / rate 2 (or flipped)

          So for our example: US divorces to marriages is 3.6/6.8
          which is ~53%. Utah is 3.7/8.6, thus ~43%. This means that more
          marriages stay intact in Utah than the US average.

          It’s an old statistics trick that is quite prevalent in the general media to report the rates and not the ratio, thereby obscuring or even (either ignorantly or deliberately) falsifying the actual conclusions. It’s actually fun to try and spot this trick in many news articles because once spotted the article is usually completely debunked or it proves its own opposite conclusion.

          Another useful metric is the *net*: rate 2 – rate 1 (or reversed). This would mean that per 1000 people, the US gains 3.2 (6.8 – 3.6) stable marriages a year. Utah gains 4.9 (8.6 – 3.7) stable marriages a year.

          • somersault

            I forgot to add some other neat stats based on other ratios of the numbers above (MR = marriage rate, DR = divorce rate):

            Utah MR / US MR = 8.6 / 6.8 = ~1.265
            Utah DR / US DR = 3.7 / 3.6 = ~1.028

            This means that Utahns are 26.5% more likely to marry but only 2.8% more likely to divorce

          • Lucy Mcgee

            One challenge with this type of analysis, and something I should have realized, is that populations are not static, or isolated. These statistics are heavily influenced by growth rate and as kiwi57 pointed out, should be examined, if possible, by percentage of a population which are married. If you look at a state like Nevada, it shows a very low number, using your calculations, but obviously highly skewed. It is also interesting that Vermont, possibly the most irreligious state according to some, has the same 43% number as Utah. So I’m not sure if using these stats is very useful.

            If you do your same analysis on the European Union, you find numbers all over the map with some countries much lower than Utah. In retrospect, it seems that using yearly marriage and divorce rates is useful for analyzing TRENDS, and not much more, in my opinion.

          • somersault

            Interesting response. I would not guess you were the same person because of how far different this response is from your opening post. You are attempting to keep the same position while modifying your methodology and discounting other data. In addition, you are now claiming that certain variables are missing yet you made your initial extrapolations on variables that weren’t even in the data set (like what the rates are in a Mormon-only or Christian-only population vs US rates). This seems rather inconsistent for someone trying to appear to approach the topic rationally.

            Also, I agree with much of what you said in this last post. However, ratio data and other 1st or 2nd-order derivative statistical data are extremely useful and cannot be so easily dismissed because you do/do not favor the results (this is the ethic of rational science). E.g. You cannot hope to solve the divorce rate problem until you stop the trend of an increasing divorce rate (1st-derivative of divorce-rate; 2nd-derivative of total divorces). In fact, I would say that public policy-making would be much more beneficial if it more frequently took these derivative changes into account.

            I also think you’re assuming I’m making more extrapolations that I did – I only made two which I still think hold true:
            1. More marriages in Utah stay intact
            2. You made your initial extrapolations before researching (i.e. you made up your mind and found data to fit before thorough study)

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Actually, I’m not keeping the same position. What I’ve discovered is that these divorce data are not useful when comparing Scandinavian nations to say, Utah. If more marriages in Utah stay intact, then that’s great but so do marriages in less religious Vermont (using your methodology). I think we need more complete data to determine if religiosity plays a much more important role in lasting marriage, which was my original point.

            And you’re right, I had made up my mind before looking carefully at the data. My bad.

    • mike

      Lucy, funny you should mention crime rates in irreligious Europe. Denmark has two and a half times the burglary rate than the U.S. Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, Belgium, and Holland also have higher rates. Sweden’s theft rate is twice as high as the US. Denmark, the UK, Norway, Germany, and Finland also have higher rates. The assault rate is three and a half times higher in Sweden than the US. Rates are also higher in the UK, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Holland, Portugal and France. Homicide is higher in the US but attempted homicide is higher in Europe. See Rodney Stark’s latest book for more details. Don’t pretend, however, that irreligious Europe is a bastion of peace, love, and rainbows while the US is a violent wasteland. That is a longstanding liberal fantasy.

      • Lucy Mcgee
        • mike

          That’s fine, though I don’t see much of a contradiction with what I mentioned. Stark shows in his book that the more regularly one attends church the less likely one is to get arrested or become a juvenile delinquent. Hence, religion benefits individuals and society by influencing individuals to be less criminally minded.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            My next question would be what church, what religion, what nation?

          • brotheroflogan

            Yes, that was Joseph Smith’s question, in a different context.
            About marriage, I think that a full understanding of the issue would take into account co-habitants with children. Is a break up of cohabitants with children counted as a divorce? If not, I call unfair.

    • mike

      Lucy, stats do, indeed, show that the higher the level of religious commitment, the stronger a family is likely to be. Religious people are less likely to divorce, and they express higher satisfaction with their spouses. They are much less likely to abuse spouses or children, engage in extramarital affairs, and religious spouses enjoy their sex lives more. Religious families are healthier, less likely to commit crime, are less likely to be unemployed or on welfare, and religious students perform better on standardized tests. I could go on but will simply recommend Rodney Stark’s book, America’s Blessings.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    It seems to me that conservative Christians, should really be studying secular Europe. There are many metrics available, aggregated by a wide variety of institutions, which offer far better data, in my opinion, than studies funded by religious conservative think tanks, financed by conservative religious business interests, since these organizations are not intent on driving people either toward or away from religion.

    Some of the best international metrics available show that Scandinavian nations offer a quality of life which is better than the mostly religious US, where an equality adjusted way of life has been declining for decades as the middle class is hollowed out.

    • RogersDW

      And secular Europe is a shining star for the whole world to see? Please Lucy, we can do better than that can’t we?

      • Lucy Mcgee

        Do you have something in mind? Where do you look?