A new study showing southern states, including Oklahoma, have low rates of two-parent homes when compared to northern states should come as no surprise.
Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, and people here marry at younger ages than much of the country. The state also has non-existent to weak or watered down sexual education in public schools. It’s the same story we’ve been dealing with for years here.
Much attention has been focused recently on data showing that boys raised in homes with two biological parents become more successful economically than children raised in single-parent homes, even in those homes in which a parent has a partner. Teenage girls raised in two-parent homes, studies have also shown, have lower rates of pregnancy, according to the article.
But another larger issue is the hypocrisy. Conservative red-state politicians extol family and religious values yet the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality of their constituents or states. Strict fundamentalist religious beliefs, in a general sense, appear to lead to a lack of knowledge and, in some cases, the maturity needed for healthier marriages.
The new study, which was outlined in The New York Times, showed only 39 percent of children in Oklahoma live in two-parent homes. Overall, that makes the state fifth behind Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama. In all, five other states ranked at 39 percent as well. Northern states, such as Utah at 57 percent, Minnesota at 56 percent and Nebraska at 55 percent, had the highest percent of children living in two-parent homes.
Oklahoma, which launched the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) in 1999 to lower the number of divorces, still remains a state with a high divorce rate. In 2011, it even led the nation in the percentage of divorces. It has consistently ranked in the top five states for divorce. Meanwhile, OMI has spent millions of federal dollars through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to lower the rate, but has apparently given up on its loftier goal to reduce the divorce rate by one-third.
So, although some might argue otherwise, Oklahoma hasn’t really moved much forward from 1999. Conservative, southern state so-called family values, stressed by religious fundamentalists here, and the new Republican majority in state government, haven’t even begun to solve the state’s numerous social problems. In fact, one could make the argument that the religious fundamentalists, emboldened by the state’s Republican majority, continue to be the problem, not the answer.
In the end, what constitutes a “family unit” is more fluid than ever before, and I’m always left feeling studies like this one don’t tell the entire story. Overall, the dry data, for example, doesn’t tell the success stories of children who grow up in single-parent homes or are raised by two fathers or two mothers or by parents and stepparents. Perhaps, more emphasis on a national level should be placed on helping blended families and non-traditional families. In other words, the focus shouldn’t necessarily focus on lowering divorce rates of biological parents as it should be on improving the lives of children in economic and educational terms despite the relationship status of their parents.
Still, divorce rates remain high here as do teenage pregnancies.
The solutions have always been obvious: The state needs to invest more overall in its educational systems, and it should offer comprehensive sex education classes, which would then explain different methods of contraception. (The contraception issue, in particular, would surely ignite protests from the religious right.) Overall, the religious right and school counselors and parents should discourage people from marrying so young here. Leaders here need to help younger people de-romanticize marriage and especially wedding preparations and celebrations. A wedding and a honeymoon don’t create a long-term, healthy marriage.