Last Friday, October 31st, I had the pleasure to attend the Conference on the Impact of the Family on the Economy held at the Hall of the Americas of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C. The Permanent Missions of Paraguay, Guatemala, and Haiti to the OAS and the Alliance Defending Freedom hosted this commemoration of the international year of the family, with special speakers presenting studies regarding the positive impact families have in a country’s economy, and the need to protect and strengthen them in order to achieve development.
I had never really thought about the impact of the family on the economy, but after listening to the keynote presentations, I am convinced that the international agenda must address the needs of the family in order to combat poverty and social inequality. The family is the cornerstone of society, and its essential role needs to be preserved and provided for in addressing social development.
Article 17 of the American Convention on Human Rights, a multilateral treaty ratified by all the member state of the OAS, declares: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” That the family must be the focus of development policies and programs is not a mere political statement. As the distinguished scholars at the conference demonstrated, the importance of the family to the economy is supported by data and other statistical evidence. The defenders of the family are on the side of social science and sound economic theory.
Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre, a professor of economics at Catholic University of America, delivered the conference’s keynote address. Aguirre argued that, not only is the family a crucial element of the economy, but the structure of the family remains important as well. With the use of statistical data from a variety of countries, including the US, Mexico, and Guatemala, she argued that the state of the family impacts the effectiveness of social development programs. Stable families increase rates of social and civic responsibility, with obvious implications on the political health of the state. Dr. Aguirre exhibited further data that showed the deep connection between family structure and poverty rates. Married households are much wealthier than single-parent households, even with government assistance so often given to single parents and cohabiting couples. Dr. Aguirre emphasized that there is no evidence that families of larger size (typically married households) are a burden on the national economy, as is alleged by some population theorists. Therefore, if we are serious about ending poverty, abuse, and violence, we need to look at the marital structure of the family. Strong and stable families could truly change the world.
Public policy often ignores the role of the family in the economy, though most people popularly acknowledge that the family is the most important social institution. The breakdown of the family is a symptom of a sick and weak society. When the family breaks down, we lose human, social, and moral capital, with a negative impact on the political economy. Therefore, the family must be the center of economic and social development program if we are to achieve success. Families help local communities, national economies, and the world.
As Pope John Paul II urges in Familiaris Consortio, “Family, become what you are!”