The Family Economy in Crisis
The Time for Reform Is Now
The family has disintegrated in the 21st century. This is the inescapable conclusion of many of today’s social indicators. With 41% of children born into homes without fathers, half of marriages ending in divorce, and the shack-up rate seven times what it was in 1970, the nuclear family now makes up less than half of American households.
With each new generation over the last fifty years, the plight of the family has worsened, and the problem is getting harder to ignore. In 1960, 70% of young men showed maturity by age 30, while, today, the opposite is true: 70% of young men are not “grown up” by 30 years of age. Today, 70% of children will not grow up with their mothers and fathers at home, and the trend is only growing bleaker. In twenty years, there will be very few young men who are grown up enough to provide for their wives and children.
Most of us are past the denial stage that a crisis exists. Yet Americans on the whole are apathetic in response. Some say the family is irrelevant to society anyway, while others suggest that an occasional family game night will solve the problem. Few are really taking this social trend seriously.
Today, most twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings see no need for the nuclear family. We all know these people. They are our neighbors, our extended family members, and people who attend church with us.
The family is dying a slow and miserable death in the West. Ultimately, it is a failure of the Christian faith and life that brought about our present predicament, though all of our institutions have contributed to it. There are several institutional forces that have worked hard to dismantle the family over about the last six generations. Our colleges, universities, K-12 schools, churches, corporations, and governments have marginalized the family unit because they do not see the family as integral to the socio-economic system.
Our Goal: Recontruct the Biblical Family
So how should we respond to this travesty? To the present milieu, we apply the words of Jesus: “[T]he two shall become one flesh. . . . they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:5–6).
While it may be inconvenient to universities and corporations, the family is important to God. In the above statement, Jesus seems to be most concerned by the many efforts that men put into disintegrating the family. The notion that divorce is the only thing that fragments a family is foolish, for there are a hundred other forces at work. Divorce is only the R.I.P. sign on the family’s grave.
Our goal must then be to reconstruct the family, and the hearts of men must change for this to happen. We must therefore call men and women to repent of their pre-marital fornication and their unwillingness to follow God’s order. The Gospel calls us to repentance and faith in Christ, and biblical churches must preach this at every opportunity.
But we must also address the institutional forces that are constantly at work to separate the oneness of marriage. Many churches do not teach the integrity of the household unit, though families in the New Testament served God together (Stephanas), believed together (Cornelius), were baptized together (Lydia, Philippian Jailer, Cornelius, etc.), worked together (Aquila and Priscilla), and were disciplined together (Ananias and Sapphira). You will see the same pattern in the Old Testament. Church leaders must study the Bible and teach proper theology relating to the family.
Economic Retrograde: From Strength to Servitude
Economic forces have devastated family integrity as well. In the opening paragraphs in his famous autobiography written in 1888, the missionary John Paton commented that the destruction of the family farm and the family economy in Scotland did not have to happen, but that “the loss to the nation as a whole [was] vital, if not irreparable.”
When fathers and mothers left their homes for corporate jobs, their children were initially turned over to the capitalist corporation. Subsequently, the children were passed off to the state by way of the child labor and compulsory attendance laws. The same thing is happening to our wives now, as their medical insurance and social security have moved from the corporation to the state by way of Obamacare.
Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton argued for a “third way” in place of capitalism and communism. They argued that a family-based economy with a widespread ownership of property (debt-free) would protect “primal family relations and the home economy.” They warned that “measures such as unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and national health insurance constituted a dangerous new form of servitude.”
Family Fragmentation: Socialism Fills the Void
In the political sphere, the household was fragmented when each adult in the family could vote for a different candidate. While this is the most controversial element of the discussion, it must be addressed when we look at what caused the disintegration of the family unit, in terms of its relationship with the state. The separation of family members has been a vital contributor to the success of socialism in modern nations.
The rumblings from this upheaval are not limited to some faraway Marxist regime. The most significant socialist voting base that led to the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 was single women. Where there is no family to provide “social” security, the socialist state does the honors. As long as the majority of households are led by single women, and the nuclear family makes up less than half of American households, we will never see a reprieve in the rise in big government. Government will continue to expand until economic collapse occurs—or we repent.
The Demise of the Family Economy
All of these factors have worked to break down the unity of biblical marriage and the household. But by far the strongest external force that has worked to separate the oneness of the family is the modern economic system.
For 6,000 years, families worked together: David feeding his father’s sheep, Rachel feeding her father’s sheep, Joseph feeding his father’s sheep, and Aquila and Priscilla working together as tentmakers. Since the Industrial Revolution and the family-fragmenting economies of the last six generations, the family economy is virtually non-existent, with more than 5 times the rate of corporate servitude since 1880. Households are saddled with almost 20 times the debt slavery than they were in 1900, with 30 times more government regulation, even as the income tax burden for families has skyrocketed.
It is practically impossible to maintain much of a family economy while a thousand little slave-drivers tie down the average man. So our children are plugged into the state as early as their pre-school or kindergarten years, and eventually wander away from their families while ever-decreasing odds predict that most will never start their own family.
Consider this illustration: The average kid (we’ll call him David) enrolls in college two thousand miles from home, gets an apartment, and plays computer games until he’s 29. David hooks up with Rachel for three months, and thinks about having kids when he’s 48. Meanwhile, Rachel goes off to college, gets her little career going, tries not to get pregnant, but bears one or two kids by the time she’s 45 years old (whether or not she is married). She doesn’t need a husband because she has her corporate job and Barack Obama to take care of her.
The above scenario is hardly fictional. As of this year, half of children born to women 30 years and younger are born out of wedlock. The disintegration of the American family is real and atrocious.
But what happens to a society where the nuclear family is in the minority, and dysfunctionality is the norm? Dysfunctionality gives rise to more dysfunctionality. The law of sowing and reaping is inevitable; we reap more than we sow—and absent a fundamental change of course, the unsavory harvest of broken families will only get worse over time. Without the radical reintegration of the family economy and family education, we will fail to salvage civilization.
Back to Basics: Restoring the Family Economy
Homeschooling plays an important part in the vision to re-integrate the family. It is a part of a larger vision, for education is a subsidiary of economics. One of the chief ministry objectives of Generations with Vision and Vision Forum Ministries is to urge fathers to get involved in their families, and many dads now “get it.” They, alongside their wives, are striving to re-integrate the family in the area of education.
Homeschooling is family-based education, but what about family-based economics? Through our children’s education, we prepare them for their future work, and, thankfully, the vision to cultivate family-based economics is growing. Especially during this economic downturn, we have begun to see families pulling together and developing their income streams. When folks ask me if we are a one-income family or a two-income family, I tell them that we are a seven-income family! Everybody pulls together. Each player is vital to the team, and everybody works.
We are not speaking of the “traditional” family here, where the father works and the mother stays home. Nor is it the latchkey family where children are raised by the state to play their part in the statist economy. Rather it is an “oikonomia,” the Greek word that our English word, “economics,” is taken from. The Greek word “oikonomia,” technically translates as “The Law of the Family.”
From the beginning, the basic economic unit was not the individual, but the family. Proverbs 31 was clear: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need of spoil.” What it doesn’t say is: “The heart of her corporate boss and seven layers of bureaucracy doth safely trust in her.” The Bible counts on the family economy being unified and integrated.
One of the reasons why young men are playing computer games at 29, and young men 25–35 years of age are the only demographic making less money than they did in 1970, is that they were not trained to work when they were young boys. For the last three generations, young men have not been mentored by their own fathers. “School,” as traditionally configured, does not train a boy to work. To wait until a boy is 16 or 18 years old before you put him to work is to make a grave error, and we are suffering the consequences of it.
Fathers and mothers must train their sons and daughters to contribute to their household economy from the beginning. Then, these parents will have an inheritance to give their children, and their children will take care of them in their old age. Within the family economy, we have more opportunity for discipleship, family integration, and the preparation of our sons and daughters for their own family economy.
The Time for Reform Is Now
What do you do with a society where the young 30-year-old men are playing computer games, and the 65-year-old men are playing golf? What happens to a society where there are far more retirees than Generation Y’s in the work force, especially if the social security system is nearing bankruptcy?
This is where we are today, and the economic situation is dire. Unless we change the way we educate, the way we do our economics, and the way we integrate our families, I tremble to think of what will happen in the upcoming decades.
Now is the time to redefine a biblical economy based upon the re-integration of the family.
Join Kevin Swanson, Doug Phillips, Joel Salatin, Geoff Botkin, Erik Weir, and R.C. Sproul Jr. and other speakers on May 8–11, 2013 for the Family Economics Conference, to be held in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit www.FamilyEconomics.com to learn more and to register for the event.
Kevin Swanson is the author of many books, including Apostate; The Second Mayflower;and Upgrade: The Ten Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child. Kevin hosts a daily radio program — Generations Radio — the world’s largest homeschooling and biblical worldview program that reaches families across the U.S. and in over 80 countries. With a vision toward biblical reformation of education and all of culture, Kevin serves as a pastor of Reformation Church in Castle Rock and Director of Generations with Vision (www.GenerationsWithVision.com). He and his wife, Brenda, homeschool five children in their home on the eastern plains of Colorado.
 James DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise, “For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside of Marriage,” February 17, 2012, New York Times.
 Jesse Powell, “The Factors Behind the Divorce Rate in America”: http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2011/09/the-factors-behind-the-divorce-rate-in-america/.
 Stats on Cohabiting Couples in: Ben Wattenburg, Chapter 4 of The First Measured Century. Published online at: http://www.pbs.org/fmc/book/4family3.htm.
 U.S. Census Bureau statistic, reported in: Sabrina Tavernise, “Married Couples Are No Longer Majority, Census Finds,” May 16, 2011, New York Times.
 Tony Dokoupil, “Why I Am Leaving Guyland,” August 29, 2008, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/id/156372.
 Allan C. Carlson, Third Ways (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), pp. 176, 177.
 According to Wikipedia, there were 22 million farms in 1880. This accounts for about 45% of the population (since the population was 50,200,000 per the 1880 census). As of 2008, only 2% were employed in agriculture, with the national self-employment ratio hovering around 11%. This means that there is about 5 times more corporate servitude (conservatively speaking) than there was 120 years ago. There were more self-employed people in the 1880s than farmers, to be sure, but these numbers are hard to obtain. My estimate is that about 75% of Americans were self-employed in the 19th century. Moreover, a fairly high degree of self-employment does not involve the family today, due to our prevailing educational system and child labor laws that disallow children from working in many family businesses.
 In 1900, there was approximately $1 billion in home mortgages, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1969, p. 705). Given that the GDP was $20 billion in 1900, this debt accounts for 5% of the GDP. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, Mortgage Debt in the United States stands at $14 trillion, or 95% of the GDP (as of 2010). Compare this to 1900, and the debt-load ratio has increased by a factor of almost twenty times.
 There are 30 times more government regulations (as determined by pages of Federal Register) now than there was in 1936.
 When the federal income tax was first instituted in 1913, family households that made up to $463,826 in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars per year only paid 1% in federal income tax. That number has increased more than 15 times on the low end of the spectrum, with high income families (who make under $463,286 a year) paying as much as 39.6% in federal income tax. See the following study by the Tax Foundation to learn more: http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/fed_rates_history_real_1913_2013_0.pdf.
 KD Del’Antonio, “For Younger Mothers, Out-of-Wedlock Births Are the New Normal,” February 19, 2012 , New York Times Parenting Blog: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/for-younger-mothers-out-of-wedlock-births-are-the-new-normal/, accessed on April 5, 2013.