Our families have emerged as many people’s primary community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fits the family’s natural role in society, but the change has not been easy. Many families have experienced new challenges amid COVID-19.
Faith in the Public Arena
Single parents are now the sole providers of both their family’s income and children’s education. Low-income families, who already endure economic hardships, face uncertainty in a difficult job market. COVID-19 has accentuated the crisis of family instability, apparent in high rates of divorce and rising rates of single parenthood and perpetuated by a societal disinterest in the success of the family as a community.
To combat this crisis, we must look to policy examples that strengthen families, like changes recently enacted in Hungary, which led to higher rates of marriage, lower rates of divorce, and a drop in abortions. In a world shaken by change, we achieve stability and flourishing by empowering families to fulfill their purpose as communities of life and love.
In his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” Pope St. John Paul II reminds us of the family’s role as the foremost educator in society. He says, “The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life.”
Family formation is essential to the well-being of children, but not all receive this formation in its entirety. Almost a quarter of children in the United States live in a single-parent household. These children are more likely to commit suicide, become drug dependent, and perform below their peers in school.
In fact, while reading proficiency disparities exist among students of different races and ethnicities in Minnesota, research indicates that, for certain grades, the percentage of students proficient in reading matches almost identically to the percentage of two-parent households in each category. A child’s educational success cannot be accurately determined by race or ethnicity, but the data does show that children in two-parent households are more likely to succeed in school.
These disparities will only continue during COVID-19 as single parents, who relied on the school system, must now educate, supervise, and provide for their children all day. This is even more difficult for the 24 percent of single-parent households that live below the poverty line in Minnesota, compared to the four percent of impoverished households with married couples.
The most effective welfare mechanism is two married parents in a household. Marriage serves the good of the family, fosters the formation of children, and is essential for a flourishing society. When a man and a woman discern marriage, both public policy and society should encourage, not inhibit, their decision.
To strengthen society, lawmakers should look to policies that encourage marriage and support families, like what was enacted in Hungary following reform in 2010.
With a declining population and a suffering economy, Hungary enacted policies that focused on the family. It provided home-purchasing subsidies for families with children, decreased taxes owed by families with children, and provided interest-free loans to married couples which they need not pay back after having three children.
It even codified its commitment to the family in its constitution, stating, “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.”
Hungary’s focus on families has led to marriages increasing by 84 percent, divorces decreasing by 29 percent, and abortions decreasing by one-third between 2010 and 2019.
By incentivizing marriage and supporting family stability, Hungary shows that family-focused policy makes a difference.
Recognizing the importance of marriage and the family unit will lead to a stable and flourishing society. The prosperity of society is tied to the health of each family, and by supporting public policy that upholds marriage and strengthens the family unit — the origin of development and virtue — we further the common good of all.
Jack Lawlis is Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.