In a series of essays I am exploring the sociological reasons that the prosperous democracies with high levels of religiosity – the conservative and creationist USA most of all -- tend to have high levels of social dysfunction. In the last essay we looked at marriage and divorce. This time child rearing is the main focus.
Although Americans have a disturbingly high level of divorce – only Swedes split up as fast -- we also have exceptionally high rates of marriage by western standards. Because in no other prosperous democracy do so many get hitched, more American kids are raised within a standard nuclear family than are those in western Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan. Yet, as we have seen in my earlier posts, western youth are not suffering unduly relative to their American counterparts. If anything they are doing better in key respects, including mortality, STD infections, abortion and pregnancy. Nor are young Europeans prone to murderous violence on the street and in the schools to the same level as are ours. In youth suicide there is comparatively little difference between 1st world nations. Why are American children not doing a lot better than their foreign western counterparts?
Because they are no longer constrained by religious dictates, the citizens of progressive democracies do not feel compelled to marry, so rates of long-term cohabitation and adult out of wedlock childbirth are up to 60% higher than in America. But as T. R. Reid noted four years ago in The United States of Europe, rates of parental separation are actually lower on the continent than they are in the USA, where almost half of marriages fail. The ironic result is that more nonAmerican western children enjoy the benefits of living with both parents for their entire childhood.
As much as Americans claim to be pro-child, in terms of practical assistance the kids and their parents are left pretty on their own. Guaranteed maternal leave and aid are minimal by western standards. So much so that American mothers who live in Europe and get used to the high level of support from the government and employers following official regulations, can find returning to the USA to be an unpleasant return to the American reality. Of the European countries France is perhaps the most child friendly. The government began to promote child rearing as a means of countering the rise of fecund Germany when the two nations were at odds, and the arrangement has never ended. French aid to parents includes three year paid parental leave with job protection, subsidized day care until age three and full time preschool after, and monthly child care allowances, all adjusted for income (this is one reason why fertility rates are nearly as high as in America). Other western nations except ours tend to have generous parental aid programs.
Childhood bullying was long assumed to be a normal part of growing up. Exactly why harrassment and violence was seen as tolerable when it was between vulnerable kids, while comparable activity between adults was considered out of bounds is not clear. In any case, as social research piles up the evidence showing that abuse and violence in the formative years is a major contributing factor to the same in teens and adults, western countries have instituted anti-bullying policies that appear to be more successful outside America. This may be a factor behind the lower levels of lethal school in Europe.
The Bible warns parents not to spare the rod, and the American social and religious right have taken this instruction to heart. Conservative texts and websites on parenting at length praise the benefits of physical punishment for the tykes if they are to grow up to be God-fearing members of society in good standing. Heaven knows what they will develop into lacking the occasional whack on the hand or behind. Social investigations suggest that the violence of corporal punishment instead backfires by contributing to later violence. America lags behind other advanced nations in suppressing corporal punishment. Here physical chastisement is practiced in some schools, in some other western countries it is illegal even in the home.
The religious right promotes the Bible as the ideal “Good Book” for instructing young Americans on how to be moral citizens. It is often said that the Bible contains a lot of violence, but few are aware of just how bad the text – which was written by unenlightened Bronze and Iron Age peoples – actually is. Traditionalists cite the Ten Commandments as the moral code par excellence. When Moses came down to the Israelites bearing the order to not kill, he immediately followed instructions from above and ordered his troops to kill those who had been worshipping the Golden Calf. Later Moses follows the creator’s orders to eliminate entire nations down to the last child. Psalms 137 indicates that dashing the infants of the enemies of Israel on rocks is a good thing. In Exodus 21 God fearing slave masters are warned not to beat their slaves to death, but if the slave survives the punishment this is acceptable because the slave is his property. Jesus in Luke 12 explains that the innocently errant slave should be beaten but not too severely, the deliberately disobedient slave should be thoroughly thrashed, and the egregiously way word slave should be cut to pieces. In Matthew 10 Jesus says he has not come to bring peace to earth, but the sword, and he arrives at Jerusalem as part of an armed party according to Luke 22. The side notes in a conservative Bible explain that his sudden assault upon the temple shows how violence is sometimes necessary as a form of social protest. Perhaps it follows that the USA is the western nation with the highest level of Bible literalism, and the highest level of murder.
Over in Europe, where homicide rates are at a historical low, the general absence of Bible literacy seems to be doing the population little harm – if not some good. The same folks who promote the Bible as an ethical guide for young and old alike also denounce Darwin’s scientific theory as leading to moral decay and societal chaos. Yet the much higher levels of popular acceptance of evolution in Europe are associated with lower levels of lethal violence and other societal dysfunction. So much for looking at specific issues and causes. In the next post we will examine the big picture of why the secular, pro-evolution democracies are enjoying greater social success than the ones that retain high levels belief in a creator being. It is a fascinating and complex tale that has only recently been revealed through sociological research.
Further reading --
This essay is a follow on to the following series.“Why is Secular European Society Doing So Much Better Than God-Fearing America? A Look at Marriage and Divorce.”
www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_gregory__080208_why_is_secular_europ.htm“Why is Secular European Society Doing so Much Better Than God-Fearing America? Lets Start With Sex.” www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_gregory__080131_why_is_secular_europ.htm and“Why the Claim that Progressive Secular Values and Policies Are Bad For Societies is a Great Big Lie,” www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_gregory__080118_why_the_claim_that_p.htm The lower levels of dysfunction present in nonAmerican western youth are documented by yours truly at http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html.
Judith Warner in Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (Riverhead, 2005) explores the superior child care arrangements in Europe compared to the US.
J. Payne “Bully for Them: Efforts to Stop Children's Intimidation of Other Children appear to pay off... outside the U.S.” The Washington Post (2005) 8/23: F1, F6. Also M. Nickel et al. “Anger, Interpersonal Relationships, and Health-Related Quality of Life in Boys Who are Treated with Outpatient Family Therapy.” Pediatrics (2005) 116: 247-254.