The State of the Family: James Dobson's July 2001 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

The long-awaited report from the U.S. Census Bureau was released May 15, reflecting population trends and living patterns during the 10 year period ending in the year 2000.1 It was a shocker! The report confirmed that the institution of the family has continued the downward spiral that began in the early ’70s.2 Indeed, it is now in an unfettered free-fall. Our local paper here in Colorado Springs, The Gazette, shouted the news in 84-point type, “Nuclear Family Fading.”3 The Boston Herald, in a column written by Don Feder, carried the headline, “Nuclear Family in Meltdown.”4 Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for the Family said, “We are moving toward a post-family society.”5 Sadly and ominously, these assessments are true. This God-ordained institution, which has prevailed in almost every culture on earth since the Garden of Eden,6 is unraveling right in front of our eyes.

Here are some of the most disturbing findings from the report: Households headed by unmarried partners grew by almost 72 percent during the past decade, most of them involving people living together out of wedlock.7 Households headed by single mothers increased by more than 25 percent,8 and those led by single fathers grew by almost 62 percent.9 For the first time ever, nuclear families dropped below 25 percent of households.10 A third of all babies were born to unmarried women, (33 percent) compared to only 3.8 percent in 1940.11 From other studies, we know that cohabitation increased by close to 1,000 percent from 1960 to 1998.12 We are also seeing a growing number of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s who, like actress Jodie Foster, are choosing to bear and raise children alone.13

On Wednesday, June 13, the Census Bureau released another disturbing finding. It indicated that same-sex homes are soaring. The word they used, in fact, was “skyrocketing,” in two states, Vermont and Delaware.14

In essence, the old taboos against divorce and cohabitation are disappearing, and the culture is abandoning its commitment to lifelong marriage. Indeed, I doubt if most young adults have any significant understanding of why previous generations defended the family so vigorously or why they were disdainful of those that blatantly “shacked up.” It was because they violated biblical moral principles that were deeply ingrained within the culture. That belief system has almost disappeared. Now, the divorce rate is actually higher by a small margin among born-again Christians than for those who profess to have no faith at all.15 These social changes represent a growing decadence with far-reaching implications for the future.

It is predicted now, based on these trends, that about half of the children today will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent homes.16 Already, the United States is the world’s leader in the percentage of single parents among industrialized nations,17 and that number is skyrocketing. What will happen if marriage does, indeed, become obsolete or largely irrelevant in the days ahead? It portends a world where almost every child will have several “moms” and “dads,” perhaps six or eight “grandparents,” and dozens of half-siblings. It will be a world where little boys and girls are shuffled from pillar to post in an ever-changing pattern of living arrangements—where huge numbers of them will be raised in foster-care homes or are living on the street (as millions do in Latin America today.)18 Imagine a world where nothing is stable, and where people think primarily about themselves and their own self-preservation. In short, the demise of families will produce a chaotic world that will be devastating to children. But here is the most important implication of family disintegration. It will represent a virtual end of evangelism, as has occurred in Western Europe. George Barna’s research reveals that if a child hasn’t been introduced to Jesus Christ by the time he or she is 14, there is only a 4 percent chance that such conversion will happen between ages 14 and 18 and a 6 percent chance that it will occur in the remainder of life.19 The family is absolutely critical to the propagation of the faith. If it falls apart in nations around the world, we will, perhaps in our lifetime, see another moral collapse “as it was in the days of Noah.”

Children, of course, will be the first to suffer. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, writing in her acclaimed article “Dan Quayle Was Right,” said this about the stresses experienced by children when their families fall apart:

All this uncertainty [in a single-parent home] can be devastating to children. Anyone who knows children knows that they are deeply conservative creatures. They like things to stay the same. So pronounced is this tendency that certain children have been known to request the same peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch for years on end. Children are particularly set in their ways when it comes to family, friends, neighborhoods, and schools. Yet when a family breaks up, all these things may change. The novelist Pat Conroy has observed that “each divorce is the death of a small civilization.” No one feels this more acutely than children.20
Given the national crisis that appears to be on the horizon, one would think that the federal government would be trying desperately to support the institution of marriage and do everything possible to restore it to a position of health and vitality. Quite the opposite is true. Our political leaders have been shameless in their disregard for the institution of the family. When Margaret La Montagne, White House Domestic Policy Advisor to President George W. Bush, was asked about her reaction to the Census report during a C-SPAN interview, she replied, “I guess I would respond to say, you know, ‘So what?’”21 Her comment sets some kind of record for its ignorance. The nation’s families are steadily disintegrating, yet La Montagne said, in effect, “Who cares?” The disturbing thing is that this woman sits at the highest level of government, offering advice and counsel every day to the most powerful man on earth. Lord, help us! Unfortunately, her flippant remark reflects the cavalier attitude toward families that is common in Washington. How long has it been since you’ve heard one of our prominent leaders talk about the pressures on marriages, or the desperate need for government to lend a hand?

There are a few bright spots on this dark landscape, of course. For example, the president recently nominated Dr. Wade Horn to a top position in the Department of Health and Human Services. Some of you may recognize Dr. Horn as the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, an organization that has long proclaimed the importance of the two-parent household and warned of the increased risks that children face without a father in their lives. If confirmed as assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Horn would have authority over welfare policy, child care, child support, foster care, adoption, Head Start and refugee services.22 Not surprisingly, however, the National Organization for Women has already trained its guns on Dr. Horn, erroneously suggesting that, by supporting the view that stable families with two parents are vital to child development, he will actually be pressuring women to “stay married to men who abuse them.”23

The majority of our congressmen and senators have not only ignored the needs of families—they have consistently made matters worse. For 32 years, married couples who have poured their lives into their kids, packing lunch boxes, buying sneakers and nursing fevered children through their illnesses, have been taxed at a higher rate than those living together without benefit of marriage.24 That is unconscionable!

Focus on the Family and other conservative organizations have been begging our representatives since 1985 (literally) to give families a fair shake. I have devoted numerous radio programs to the issue, and you, our friends, have burned the phone lines of the Capitol Hill switchboard, demanding action. Nevertheless, the majority of our lawmakers remained deaf to our pleas. They gave us political gobbledygook about not having enough federal money to deal with the penalty. They warned that it would “break the budget” to fix it. Then when it became apparent that our government would have a huge budget surplus, their dance quickly changed. The new excuse was that there were more pressing concerns to be funded. Yeah, like what? Like allocating hundreds of millions annually for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations?25 Like the initiative of Democrats, (which thankfully failed by a hair) to fund abortion providers around the world with millions of our tax dollars?26 Like the $1.5 million to refurbish a statue of the ancient Roman god of fire, Vulcan, in Alabama?27 Or like the “Big Dig”—the underground highway in Boston that was supposed to cost $2.6 billion, and has now cost $13.6 billion?28 Or like the $3 billion held in trust for American Indians by the Interior Department that has simply disappeared?29 Yes, there are many other priorities for those who are oblivious to the family.

President Clinton was a most aggressive opponent of family relief during his term in office. At an impromptu White House press conference on August 5, 2000, he said that to lower the taxes on families would be to “squander the surplus.”30 That about puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? The government is squandering untold billions every year! There was plenty of money to kill babies and fund pork-barrel projects of our legislators, but not enough to give a break to married couples.

At last this year, President Bush’s tax-relief measure found favor in Congress. Washington is awash in revenues and the president urged our representatives to let the people keep some of their own money. There was even some encouraging talk of putting an end to the marriage penalty tax. Well, the subsequent bill has now passed, as you know, offering relief to tax-paying Americans. The president is to be commended for promoting a tax cut (the biggest in two decades)31 that will help families on a general level; however, thanks to many liberals in Congress, there is not one dollar allocated to end the marriage penalty tax, for four more years. That’s right! Out of $1.35 trillion allocated for a reduction in taxes, none of it will go toward the marital inequity until 2005, and then only a small adjustment is proposed.32 It will never materialize if the liberals in Congress have their way. Democratic consultants James Carville and Paul Begala wrote in The New York Times, “The Democrats must work to spend and shrink: spend the money and shrink the tax cut . . . there is plenty of time to fix things.”33 What a surprise that is!

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, working in conjunction with the White House, rammed through an education bill that gives (brace yourselves, now) a 29 percent increase to the Department of Education!34 The money will go to an already bloated bureaucracy that has done irreparable damage to our schools. New Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is still not satisfied with this allocation. He is threatening to sabotage the president’s agenda with even more massive appropriations.35 This, despite the fact that it can’t even account for $450 million they “lost” in the past three years of the Clinton administration.36 Nevertheless, they are about to get $24 billion more for expansion of the federal control of our schools, while our representatives could not spare one thin dime to redress the inequity for married couples.37 Thanks, senators and congressmen. You still don’t get it. You have let this precious institution languish since the ’60s. Now it is on the ropes. Every special interest group in the country seems to have its political benefactors who dole out money like water from a fire hose. Every special interest that is, except the traditional family. It is truly a ragged orphan crying for a morsel of bread among the Fat Cats in Washington. Daddy Warbucks is thinking about himself! Four more years, indeed!

All of these thoughts were burning through my mind as I read the recent Census Report. It took me back to the mid-70s, when I first became concerned about the well-being of families. At that time, I held a very rewarding and exciting position at the University of Southern California, serving as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics. I could have enjoyed that work for the rest of my life, because it involved children and an effort to make some of them healthier. It was a momentous decision for me to resign and open a little two-room office dubbed “Focus on the Family.” Why did I do it? It was because I saw the institution of the family starting to unravel and felt I should do something to help. That has been my life for the past 24 years.

I don’t want to sound like the Great Seer, but I foresaw the findings that now confront us in the new Census data. I watched as these disturbing developments gathered momentum through the ’80s and ’90s. More recently, I have been warning that marriage as an institution appeared to be dying. I’m sure some of my readers and listeners saw those statements as alarmist and overstated, and in fact, some have emphatically told me so. No more. The facts are now indisputable. Let me say one more time that if the family and the Judeo-Christian ethic collapse, the entire culture will descend into the same black hole that consumed Greece, Rome and the other great empires of the world. It’s just a matter of time.

The forces arrayed against the family are almost irresistible. Homosexual activists, radical feminists, abortion zealots and haters of Christianity have banded together to bring down the old order and substitute their own version of the Brave New World. With the help of the hostile media, the entertainment industry, the ACLU, People for the American Way, the National Education Association, and especially, the liberal judges who are undermining the Judeo-Christian ethic day by day, they have brought the institution of marriage to its knees. Meanwhile, millions of Christians and some of their leaders are still standing around muttering, “Let’s not get political.”

Forgive my harsh words, but I do get frustrated at times. This is one of those tougher moments. I see so little willingness among believers to fight for what is decent and right. They remind me of something that was shared by Diet Eman, author of Things We Couldn’t Say, with a member of the Focus on the Family staff. Diet told a story about a rail line that ran nearby and was used by the Nazis to transport boxcars jammed with Jews and other “undesirables.” They were on their way to the death camps in the East. Many times, the trains were sidetracked for hours while the miserable people begged pitifully for food, water and mercy. There were no bathroom facilities for the journey, which could last four days or longer. Nearby, I’m told, was a small church located close enough to the rail line to hear the cries coming from within the boxcars. The church people attending services were deeply disturbed by these mournful “distractions,” and so, they began singing more loudly so they wouldn’t have to hear them. I wonder what the God of all compassion thought about His followers as they used their worship to drown out the calls for help from tortured people.

Isn’t that story analogous to our response to the wickedness around us today? Unanesthesized babies continue to be murdered by a barbaric procedure known as partial-birth abortion. The clinics where this killing is done are located all around us, perhaps 2,042 of them, but we don’t want to know about where they are.38 Our children are being taught immoral lifestyles in our classrooms, but only a handful of parents show up at school board meetings. Homosexual propaganda is being disseminated in a growing number of schools to children as young as kindergarten,39 and yet few pastors will mention this assault on innocence on Sunday morning. That would also be political, you know.

The New York Post reported that the seniors in a Minneapolis high school were given “kits” from Planned Parenthood before the prom. Each package contained condoms, confetti, breath mints and a discount coupon to a Planned Parenthood clinic.40 Is it any wonder that genital herpes infections are soaring41 and that new cases of AIDS have again reached proportions not seen since before the disease was first identified?42 What is our reaction to these and hundreds of other disturbing developments? Most of us cram our calendars with so many activities that there is no time left to care. Then we go to our sanctuaries each week and simply sing louder.

There are several influential organizations, perhaps a dozen or fewer, that have fought consistently for the preservation of the family. Focus on the Family is among this small cadre that has defended the unborn child, fought for a fair deal for families, opposed the agenda of homosexual activists, prepared helpful materials for parents and their children, and called for prayers for a national revival. Each of our sister organizations, including the Family Research Council, is struggling financially now. It’s as though people think the battle is over and our side won. Unfortunately, as the Census report tells us, families and adherence to biblical morality continue to decline.

My inclination is to apologize for depressing you with these statistics and trends—but I will not do that. I have spoken from my heart. And I have spoken the truth. I beg you not to sit on your hands. Get involved. Use your influence. Lobby your representatives. Write the advertisers that are sending wretched television programs into our homes every night. Support your local crisis pregnancy center. Stay in touch with your local schools. Send letters to your newspapers. Answer Ms. La Montagne’s “so what?” question about the disintegrating family. There are so many places and causes where support is needed. I’m enclosing a separate list of areas wherein your influence can be used effectively. More importantly, remember to pray for our nation and its families. Spiritual renewal is the only way out of the mess we are in.

I’m also asking you to support not only Focus on the Family, but also the other organizations that are trying to hold back the tide. Not only are we committed to defending the institution of the family against those who would seek to destroy it, but we also have an ongoing desire to come alongside individual families in the unique challenges they face. If we can be of any help to you, please call us at (800-A-FAMILY).

If you and God’s people will accept that challenge, the 2010 Census Report may show a wonderful turn-around. But if we remain detached and unconcerned, the traditional family, as it was designed by our heavenly Father, will almost certainly perish in America. If that happens, its demise will effectively end this marvelous experiment in liberty. We must not be content to sing a little louder.

May the Lord bless each of you in His service.


James C. Dobson, Ph.D.


  1. See
  2. “Nuclear Family Fading,” The Gazette, 15 May 2001, p. A1.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Don Feder, “Nuclear Family in Meltdown,” Boston Herald, 23 May 2001, p. 33.
  5. Ibid.
  6. David Popenoe, “Life Without Father,” (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999) Chapter 6.
  7. Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert, “Unmarried, with Children,” Newsweek, 28 May 2001, p. 46.
  8. Ibid.
  9. The Gazette, op.cit.
  10. 1-Eric Schmitt, “For First Time, Nuclear Families Drop Below 25 Percent of Households,” The New York Times, 15 May 2001, p. A1.
  11. 1“Unmarried, with Children,” p.46, op.cit.
  12. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “The State of Our Unions 2000,” The National Marriage Project, Rutgers University. See
  13. Ashley Estes, “More Women Are Raising Children On Their Own,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 18 May 2001, p. A6.
  14. David Gram, “Census: Same-Sex Couples Increased,” The Associated Press, 13 June 2001.
  15. “Christians Are More Likely to Experience Divorce than Non-Christians,” Barna Research Online, 21 December 1999.
  16. “Breakdown on Family Breakdown,” The Washington Times, 25 March 2001, p. B2.
  17. Ibid.
  18. James Hodge, “In Nicaragua, An Explosion of Street Kids,” Newhouse News Service, 11 August 2000.
  19. “Teens and Adults Have Little Chance of Accepting Christ as Their Savior,” Barna Research Group, 15 November 1999.
  20. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1993, p. 64.
  21. Don Feder, “Meltdown of Nuclear Family Threatens Society,” Human Events, 4 June 2001, p. 9.
  22. Robert Pear, “Human Services Nominee’s Focus on Married Fatherhood Draws Both Praise and Fire,” The New York Times, 7 June 2001.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Congressional Budget Office, “For Better or For Worse: Marriage and the Federal Income Tax,” June 1997, Ch.1.
  25. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 1998-1999 Annual Report, “Combined Statement of Revenue, Expenses & Changes in Net Assets for the Year Ended June 30, 2000.”
  26. “Knights of Columbus Chief Executive Applauds House Vote on Upholding Mexico City Policy,” U.S. Newswire, 16 May 2001; “Restoration of Mexico City Policy Concerning Family Planning,” The United States Agency for International Development, 2001.
  27. Sheila R. Cherry, “Bringing Home the Bacon,” Insight on the News, 23 April 2001, p. 18.
  28. Julia Malone, “Waste Costs Taxpayers Billions, Senator Says,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6 June 2001, p. 2B.
  29. Ibid.
  30. “President William J. Clinton Delivers Weekly Radio Address,” FDCH Political Transcripts, 5 August 2000.
  31. Steve Holland, “Bush Signs Biggest Tax Cut in Decades,” Reuters, 7 June 2001.
  32. Kathy M. Kristof, “Some Relief Comes This Year, Most Much Later,” Los Angeles Times, 27 May 2001, p. A1.
  33. James Carville and Paul Begala, “A Battle Plan for the Democrats,” The New York Times, 27 May 2001, p. D9.
  34. Lizette Alvarez, “House Votes for New Testing to Hold Schools Accountable,” The New York Times, 24 May 2001, p. A1.
  35. Karen Hosler, “New Senate Leader Prepares for First Showdown with Bush; Daschle Threatens to Block Education Bill Unless Funds Increased,” The Baltimore Sun, 13 June 2001, p. 3A.
  36. “Fraud and Waste Pervade Department of Education,” NBC Nightly News, 8 May 2001.
  37. Alvarez, op.cit.
  38. Stanley K. Henshaw, “Abortion Incidence and Services in the United States, 1995-96,” Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 30, No. 6, November/December 1998, p. 263.
  39. Barbara Curtis, “(Gay) School Days,” Focus on the Family Citizen, July 2001, p. 23.
  40. Clemente Lisi, “A School ‘Prom’-iscuity Kit,” New York Post, 25 May 2001, p. 13.
  41. David Tuller, “Experts Voice New Alarm on Herpes,” The New York Times, 8 May 2001, p. F1.
  42. Jonathan Bor, “Alarming Rise in AIDS Found Among Gay Men; U.S. Infection Rate Nears 1980s Levels for a New Generation,” The Baltimore Sun, 1 June 2001, p. 1A.
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