WHAT DO THE SOCIAL SCIENCES TELL US AFTER 35 YEARS OF WIDESPREAD CONTRACEPTION?
DISSENTERS FROM HUMANAE VITAE ASSURED US THAT MANY BENEFITS WOULD COME FROM THE ACCEPTANCE OF CONTRACEPTION. WHAT DO THE SOCIAL SCIENCES TELL US AFTER 35 YEARS OF WIDESPREAD CONTRACEPTION? D.M.
W. Bradford Wilcox wrote an article “Social Science and the Vindications of Catholic Moral Teaching.” He notes that some Catholic intellectuals, with substantial public platforms, have pronounced that the most compassionate route for the Church is to accommodate her moral teachings to the experience and practice of the people. Law must give way to grace, rules must give way to experience, and the pope must give way to the people.
But there are real problems with this appeal for accommodation. The first problem is that this approach is based on bad social science. The shifts in sexual and familial behavior have been revealed in study after study as social catastrophes. The data has largely vindicated Catholic moral teaching on sex and marriage. The second problem is that moral laxity is most disastrous for the most vulnerable members of our society: the poor. The poor have paid the largest price for the cultural revolution that Andrew Greeley and Richard McBrien and others would like the Church to approve.
George Akerlof is a Nobel-Prize winning economist, and not a conservative. In two articles in leading economic journals, he provides data and advances arguments that vindicate Paul VI’s prophetic warning about the social consequences of contraception for morality and men. He asks why the U.S. witnessed such a dramatic increase of illegitimacy from 1965 to 1990 – from 24% to 64% among African-Americans, and from 3% to 18% among Whites. What happened?
With the arrival of contraceptives, traditional women could no longer hold the threat of pregnancy over their male partners, either to avoid sex or to elicit a promise of marriage in the event that pregnancy resulted form sexual intercourse. And “modern” women no longer worried about getting pregnant. The sexual revolution left traditional women who wanted to avoid premarital sex or contraception at a disadvantage because they could not compete with women who had no serious objection to premarital sex or to abortion. They could no longer elicit a promise of marriage from boyfriends in the event they got pregnant.
Thus, more of the traditional women ended up having sex and having children out of wedlock, while more of the permissive women ended up having sex and contracepting or aborting so as to avoid childbearing. This explains why the contraceptive revolution was associated with both an increase in abortion and illegitimacy.
In a second article, Akerlof argues that another result of the contraceptive revolution was the disappearance of marriage. Contraception and abortion allowed men to put off marriage. Thus the fraction of young men who were married in the U.S. dropped precipitously. In the 25 years between 1968 and 1993, the percentage of men 25 to 34 who were married with children fell from 66% to 40%. These young men did not benefit from the domesticating influence of wives and children. Instead, they could continue to hang out with their young male friends, and were more vulnerable to the drinking, partying, tomcatting and worse that is associated with unsupervised groups of young men. Substance abuse and incarceration more than doubled from 1968 to 1998.
The bottom line is this: the research of Nobel-Prize winning George Akerlof suggest that the tragic consequences of the contraceptive revolution were sexual license, family dissolution, crime, and poisoned relations between the sexes, and that the poor have paid the heaviest price for this revolution. The research suggests that the Church’s firm commitment to the moral law in the face of widespread and dramatic dissent from within and without is being vindicated in precincts that are not normally seen as sympathetic to Holy Mother Church. This research also suggests that the dissenting agenda by people like Fr. Andrew Greeley amounts to a false compassion. A sober look at our experience with contraception reveals that it is in fact contraception – not the magisterium – that is not in men, women, and children’s best interest.
The entire article can be found in The Church, Marriage & the Family, edited by Kenneth Whitehead, St. Augustine Press, 2007, pp. 330-40. For a direct link to the article, "The Facts of Life and Marriage," go to the Online archives of Touchstone Magazine here: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-01-038-f