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As traditional family declines, global concern mounts

The decline of the "traditional" family is a growing concern across the globe, as scientists, researchers and experts from Korea to Kansas point to the damaging effects of splitting families, slipping family values and mounting economic pressures on everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.

The New York Times reports that a new study of divorce, by professors at the University of Toronto, found that boys of divorced parents were two to three times more likely to seriously consider suicide, compared to their peers with married parents.

The study found that girls whose parents divorced before the girls were 18 also thought about suicide, though attributed it to other scarring childhood experiences, like abuse.

The professors emphasized that serious thoughts of suicide are rare, but that divorced parents should be aware that boys may internalize their grief more than girls, who are willing and able to talk it out.

Also, in most divorce cases the mothers maintain custody, leaving the boys without a constant male figure in their lives, which can affect a boy's emotional and developmental growth, the researchers said.

And although it may not be the result of divorce, the editors of the Korean Times recently expressed their concerns about fading family cohesiveness.

In a recent survey by Korea's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, data show that only 51 percent of respondents regarded their father-in-law or mother-in-law as family, down from 79 percent in 2006.

Only 23.4 percent said they consider their grandparents to be their family, down from 63.6 percent five years before, according to the Korean Times.

Traditional Korean families exist to bring up children and support old-age parents, the Korean Times editors wrote, yet fewer and fewer families are falling into those presumed roles.

"A family is the basic element of a community and a society," they wrote. "The disintegration of families will pose a serious threat to the nation. Aside from promoting family values, the country is required to strengthen the social safety net for the elderly. A majority of baby boomers, who were born in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, will have little means to live on after their retirement."

It's a familiar problem as the United States grapples with its own massive baby boomer population — one that will outlive previous generations and put a huge strain on Medicare and Social Security.

But more than financial, the resilient baby boomer bunch often means a shifting of familial responsibilities. Adult children become caretakers of aging parents in multigenerational homes, which, unlike Korea's, is not exactly the traditional American family structure.

Yet such homes are becoming more and more common. The Pew Research Center found that multigenerational homes have increased each year since 1970, with a record 49 million Americans living in homes with at least 2 adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation in 2008.

BYU's Wheatley Institution is hosting a free conference Thursday called "Defense of the Family: Natural Law and Perspectives." Speakers include Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, on "What Is Marriage?" and Catherine R. Pakaluk, assistant professor of business and economics, Ave Maria University, on "Let No Man Put Asunder: Economic Theory and the Demise of the Natural Family."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com