This article from the Imaginative Conservative is better than most full length books on the topic of the decay of the family. Here’s an excerpt:
Each generation thus accepts as normal what would have shocked their grandparents had it happened all at once: premarital sex, cohabitation, illegitimacy, divorce, same-sex marriage, daycare, fast-food dinners. Indeed, shocking the previous generation is part of the thrill of what might be said to amount to the institutionalization and politicization of filial rebellion.
Warnings about family decline will, to the extent that it involves “culture,” simply sound to the liberal and the young as “no big deal”: these are the perennial lamentations of the hopelessly old-fashioned—the old and conservative bemoaning the good old days. Things change: “Deal with it!”
But this kind of cultural development is not all that has become accepted as normal. Filial rebellion has a political dimension. Zimmerman describes destructive family policies enacted not only during the French and Russian revolutions, but also following the American. What might shock even the liberal and the young, yet today barely disturbs the conservative and the old, are destruction of constitutional protections and intrusive invasions of personal freedom and family privacy by the government’s ever-expanding family machinery. Here we see something highly consequential, but perhaps also more susceptible to redress than what is indicated by Wilson’s cultural despair, that is, the heavy hand of the state.
G. K. Chesterton once suggested that the family was the main check on state power and that weakening it would destroy freedom. Chesterton was writing about divorce, and here another critical difference emerges between today’s debates and the way the issue was framed by Dawson and Zimmerman and theorists they cite. While homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and other cultural issues on today’s family-values agenda do appear in their writings, they are not central. The recurring issue throughout Western history that seems to be the most direct cause of marriage and family breakdown is divorce.
Most Americans know from personal experience that the most direct and common threat to the family today is not the marriage of two homosexuals but divorce within families. Divorce now threatens most families and every society in the Western world. Not only is it multiplying single-parent homes among the affluent as welfare did among the poor; it now poses a serious threat to privacy, civil liberties, and constitutional government, as children are forcibly taken from their parents on a variety of divorce-related pretexts and parents who resist are taken away in handcuffs. Most people know someone whose children and private life have been placed under government supervision through divorce, very likely without the person’s consent. Yet even many who think of themselves as conservatives do not raise as a public issue this flagrant restriction of freedom.
This has a couple strong pressures on the behavior of both men and women, particularly in the propertied classes. Lower classes of men can just go ‘deadbeat’ — crossing state lines or just chronically under-earning — while the richer classes generally are less capable of evading the collectors. This can also happen to richer men, but there’s been less attention paid to the phenomenon.
For the women, because they can no longer rely on a man to uphold his part of the social contract, they’ll often be quite a lot more frantic about building up their careers to pick up for the deficit of men who want to be ‘providers.’ Because all educated men learn in college that being a bread-winner is sexist and immoral — and many of them believe it — they’ll tend to participate less vigorously in the labor force. This gets accentuated by the lack of women interested in being reliable, submissive, and pleasant wives.
Both sides of the gender divide in the middle class and better are mostly responding to incentives. Men want to avoid expropriation, and women work harder to provide themselves with the security that most men are unwilling to give freely anymore, lacking any sort of social security for that bond to be made.
Because the idea of the happy family has been roundly attacked by everyone in respectable society for a period of decades — instead encouraging a lifestyle focused around serving the state and the corporations that the state enables — the entire appeal of family life decays. Both become less attractive to the other, and the purpose of family life becomes muddled.
The left has attempted to float a new conception of marriage to the middle class called the ‘equal partnership’ — in which two equals with no fixed roles collaborate to earn lots of money and have an exciting lifestyle. If children are involved, part of what they earn money to achieve is to send their children to ‘great schools,’ where they themselves will also become over-achieving strivers, finishing their educations in their late 20s or early 30s before jumping into equally high-intensity careers. Any shortfall in middle class births can just be replaced by people from Asia, or by the emerging class of Black and Hispanic Head Start geniuses which are sure to turn up any time now.
These people are wildly outnumbered by the slackers, but the state prefers to encourage achievement within its own frame of reference, and tends to look down on those who are neither hyper-productive nor on welfare.
When people can be assured that their children will be obedient, pleasant, and positive for their families, they will be eager to have those children. When it’s more likely that those children will be rebellious, ungrateful, and unstable, people will be more inclined to jam in the Nuvaring and watch Netflix instead.
The despair around this state of affairs, though, is both sinful and misguided. And the despair often espoused by critics of that state, in effect, keeps that state on life support for much longer than it would be otherwise. This isn’t a state on particularly strong foundations, and the people who keep whining and moaning about how big and powerful and scary that it is aren’t being creative enough about how to get out from underneath it.
As much as the state might want to create ‘reproduction’ by importing millions of foreigners, or by pursuing inferior science fiction substitutes which have major costs and side effects, the family is still the only institution capable of healthy, reliable reproduction. A weak state is incapable of restraining its own agencies from usurping authority from families — which is, in effect, eating the future human seed corn. The cannibalization was slow before the 1960s, but it has reached a rate which will actually be fatal, causing effective death rates similar to those last seen in major wars, even leading to severe depopulation in states like Germany and Western-mimicking states like Japan.