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United Families International: Dedicated to informing you about the issues and forces impacting the family.

Contributed by Tori Black

In 1975, Tippi Hedren, the actress best known for her role in the Alfred Hitchcock horror film The Birds, visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in Sacramento, California. Hedren was the international relief coordinator with Food for the Hungry. The women living in the camp had fled South Vietnam as it fell to the communist north, and Hedren was trying to find a way for them to make a living in their adopted country. She brought seamstresses and typists to the camp to help teach the women some marketable skills. As Hedren met with the residents of the camp, one woman, Thuan Le, pointed out how beautiful Hedren’s long, manicured nails were, and that was the lightbulb moment that changed an industry. Hedren said, “Ah, maybe you can learn nails.” And the women said, “Yes, manicures!”

The Hollywood star brought together her own manicurist and a local beauty school to teach 20 women how to do manicures. In time, those women settled in various towns in Southern California, eventually opening nail salons where they charged half as much for their services as the local upscale establishments. Women who previously could not afford to have their nails done professionally could now indulge in a bit of luxury. Today the affordability of mani-pedis are have made them ubiquitous.

Eighty percent of nail technicians in Southern California are Vietnamese. Across the U.S., Vietnamese nail technicians represent 51% of the business. The effect of this one act – teaching 20 Vietnamese women how to do manicures – not only gave those women the means to provide for their families, it changed an industry and made a lasting impact on the economy. The nail industry is now worth $8 billion. But the story doesn’t end there. 

Back when those refugee women first started working as nail technicians, they regularly sent money to relatives in Vietnam to help their families back home. Tam Nguyen, the founder and president of Advance Beauty College in Southern California, believes that Vietnamese Americans today still send a portion of their earnings to relatives living in Vietnam. Eight percent of Vietnam’s economy comes from overseas remittances. More than half of that comes from the United States. 

Vietnamese Americans surely changed an industry through hard work and determination. At same time, the story of Tippi Hedren and the spark that inspired the actress and those refugee women is just one example of how great things are brought to pass by small and simple means. Last week, Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation spoke at the annual Roundtable on the Family held by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University. He spoke about the impact that marriage has on the lives of individuals and, by extension, the wellbeing of communities and nations. He did so by means of a narrative, informed by decades of studies, that illustrated the generally positive outcomes in the lives of children born to and raised by married, biological parents, with the often-negative outcomes experienced by children raised in alternative family configurations. My daughter, to whom this information is not new, wondered, could this one thing – marriage – really have such an outsized impact on society as a whole? 

In a word, yes!

Why fathers and mothers

The child born to and raised by his married, biological parents benefits from that one reality his entire life. There are three components that improve the outcomes of these children: biology, gender and stability. The biological reasons are not all clearly understood, but there are correlations that indicate a positive impact. For instance, mothers hear their own child’s cry with more sensitivity than another child’s cry. Daughters living in the house of their biological father enter puberty on average a year later than those who do not. Gender matters because men and women, mothers and fathers, interact with their children in distinct and complimentary ways. And in this respect, gender is a biological component as well. Women produce the hormone oxytocin. When they nurture their children, they produce more of this hormone and, in turn, their children produce it as well. Oxytocin serves as a cushion against stress. It helps a child to self-regulate his or her emotions. Fathers, on the other hand, produce vasopressin which is a protective, aggressive hormone. Vasopressin influences bonding, but proximity is a necessity for the desired effect, therefore, fathers and mothers need to be living together for the father and child to benefit from this effect. 

Men and women also respond to their children in different, complimentary ways. When a child falls, a mother is more likely to hug; a father is more likely to say, “Are you bleeding? No? You’re good! Go play!” Both of these responses are good and necessary for children. 

The “father effect”

Boys and girls benefit in unique ways to the influence of a father. Because of the playful aspect of their parenting, fathers teach their sons to embrace competition and independence. A boy that lives in a home with his father will be better at controlling his aggression. Fathers in a loving relationship with a boy’s mother will teach a son how to treat women. He will learn to emulate a healthy form of masculinity.

Father’s impact their daughters in unique ways. Girls that live with their father in the home do better at school and financially as adults. They are more likely to take higher-paying jobs traditionally held by men. A father’s presence helps girls postpone sexual activity and they are less likely to get pregnant as teens. (And, no, it has nothing to do with shotguns!) These girls make better choices in dating and will have more successful marriages, they have fewer mental-health issues, less depression, and handle stress better. 

A home with married, biological parents more often provides the stability that children need to thrive. Divorce and cohabitation are unstable relationships that create transitions in the lives of children that produce stress and increase negative outcomes. Single-parenthood and remarriage likewise produce instability in the lives of children with the same negative outcomes.

Marriage is at the heart of all that is good that comes from the effect that fathers have on their children. Marriage forms the glue that allows for bonding and everyday interaction between a father and children. It provides the consistency and stability that boys and girls need.

The necessity of marriage

In 2003, Senator Rick Santorum gave a speech called The Necessity of Marriage, in which he said marriage is a “countercultural institution.”

“In its essence, marriage is a selfless act. It is the act of giving oneself to somebody else and becoming one. Of course, it is impossible for two people to unite and remain separate. And since the essence of marriage is selflessness in a self-centered society, it faces opposition from today’s popular culture.”

In today’s world, where the focus is on “me first,” marriage, in order to last, must be outward-focused. Santorum said it “promotes the common good.” It does this by putting spouse and children above self. Doing so benefits not only family members but the wider society. Children raised in an intact home by biological parents are physically healthier, become better citizens that are less likely to commit crimes and face incarceration. Children are less likely to suffer from physical and emotional neglect, and they are less likely to be abused. 

Both women and men benefit from marriage. Married men earn more than their single counterparts. Intact families are less likely to experience poverty. Women are less likely to suffer from domestic violence and abuse. Men that live with their children are more involved in their communities and service organizations. They have better relationships with extended family. In addition, married men are healthier, and live longer. Both married men and women have better and more frequent sex. 

Win and win!

All of the good from which individuals and families benefit through marriage passes on to society and communities as well. Healthy people do not overburden the healthcare system. Children that do well at school and are emotionally healthy do not strain education systems. Our communities experience less crime and less poverty. You could say that marriage should be our go-to social protection system. Perhaps if they promoted more policies that strengthened marriage, politicians would yield more of the results they hope for when they design government safety-net programs.

A solemn truth

In a “me first” society, marriage is about self-affirmation and self-fulfillment. In asserting the irreplaceable role of marriage to our society’s common good, we must return the focus of marriage to children, childbearing and family formation. In his book, “Family and Civilization,” Carle Zimmerman, a sociologist and Harvard professor in the 1920s – 40s, coined the term “familism” – the supporting of families by civilizations. He argued that it is familism that makes societies stable. When civilizations, such as ancient Rome and Greece, fell, the lack of familism in those societies was a key contributor. Zimmerman also argued that “the basis of familism is the birth rate.” When children and childbearing are no longer valued, birthrates fall. When birthrates fall, civilizations fail. 

Zimmerman warned that once familism is lost among elites, the broader culture reflects an unfamilistic mindset: 

“The advertisements, the radio, the movies, housing construction, leasing of apartments, jobs—everything is individualized. . . [T]he advertisers depict and appeal to the fashionably small family. . . In the motion pictures, the family seems to be motivated by little more than self-love. . . Dining rooms are reduced in size. . . Children’s toys are cheaply made; they seldom last through the interest period of one child, much less several. . . The whole system is unfamilistic.”

Therefore, what?

The answer to so much that plagues modern society really is as simple as marriage. It is the small and simple means from which great things are brought to pass. We have a role here.

Cultivating a culture of familism begins with our own attitudes regarding marriage and childbearing. Do not let any portion of unfamilistic thinking infect your values and principles. Encourage family formation and marriage as part of the common good. Advocate for policies that reward marriage and family-formation. Bless and commend those who take on the hard but gratifying work of marriage and family. Teach your family and others that marriage is not primarily about self-fulfillment, but about service and sacrifice, and that it is in promoting and contributing to the common good that we will find our greatest satisfaction and deepest meaning in life.

Be a part of the counterculture of family!

Learn how you can help strengthen and defend the family at www.unitedfamilies.org