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Opinion & Essays - June, 1994 Issue #28 

An Anthropologist Looks at Illegitimacy
Excerpted from an article
by: David W. Murray, anthropologist
a Bradley Scholar at The Heritage Foundation
POLICY REVIEW, Spring 1994, Issue #68 p. 9-15. 

"Thirty percent of the children born in 1991 were out of wedlock, up from 5 percent in 1960." 

"The dangers of this growth in illegitimacy are now widely recognized. Single-parent families are five times as likely to be poor as two-parent unions. Broken and unformed families are the most important root cause of violent crime, drug abuse, and academic failure. The psychological toll is enormous: Boys and girls, especially teenagers, are emotionally devastated by the absence of fathers who combine love and discipline." 

"For an anthropologist, the widespread failure to marry is a sign of impending disaster. Cultures differ in many ways, but all societies that survive are built on marriage. Marriage is a society's cultural infrastructure, its bridges of social connectedness. The history of human society shows that when people stop marrying, their continuity as a culture is in jeopardy." 

"The worst social characterization the Navajo can offer of a thoughtless, deviant man is the charge that 'he acts as if he has no relatives.' This phrase tells us that being embedded in relationships, in a network of legitimated and recognized kinsmen, is a powerful reinforcement for moral action." 

"That women domesticate men who marry them has been widely noted; indeed 'groom' derives from guma, Indo-European for servant. In addition, children domesticate both men and women. In American cities the presence of children has become a 'miner's canary' for social health; where we find children playing, there we find safety for ourselves." 

"Marriage is the act of creating formal kinsmen who are bound to help us, and the ceremony of marrying, itself, helps to create in us moral sentiments of commitment and formal responsibility. The absence of marriage is not only a major reason why single parents are found so often in poverty, but why their children so often become solitary victims and victimizers." 

"Committed patterns of kinship behavior create in us moral feelings of attachment and integration. Feelings of attachment, in turn, structure our social networks of relationship. Concretely put, building a marriage will pattern positive behavior. This patterned behavior rebuilds in us moral commitments and shapes the personal capital of the future generation. Those with moral commitments are able to build social capital, through which they attain jobs and their own marriages. Producing illegitimate children pours both down the drain." 

Copyright 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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