The broken South African family, a threat to the economy

The South African economy is under assault from all sides. The attack comes in a wide variety of shapes and forms, from stubbornly high unemployment to sluggish jobless growth, to strikes and general labour unrest. There is, however, a more insidious threat that we as a nation have been slow to identify and must now do our utmost to contain. The dire state of today’s South African family seriously threatens to undermine all of the economic objectives we hope to achieve.

In the words of Ariel and Will Durant who penned the classic book “Lessons of History”, the “family is the nucleus of civilization”. Through their research and writings they have shown that a strong family is the crucial link in the prosperity and posterity of a nation. From ancient Greece to the Roman republic and later empire, the breakdown of the family led to the fall of, firstly, the economy and, secondly, the nations of the greatest civilizations that ever graced the planet.

What is the role of the family in economic success you may ask?

The Sustainable Demographic Dividend” is an article on research conducted by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Projectand the Institute of Marriage and Family, Canada, in conjunction with other universities throughout the world.  The key findings of their research are:

·      “Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers;

·      Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers;

·      Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman; and

·      Key sectors of the modern economy—from household products to insurance to groceries—are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.”

How does our country fare according to these findings? Unfortunately the picture is quite tragic.  According to Fast Facts SA, 

·      “South Africa has one of the highest divorce rates in the world with divorces with children an estimated 56% in 2009.

·      Only 35% of children were living with both their biological parents in 2008. Some 40% were living with their mother only, and 2.8% with their father only, which leaves 22.6% of children who were living with neither of their biological parents. In 2007, some 44% of all urban parents were single. Some 52% of African urban parents were single, as were 30% of coloured parents, 7% of Indian parents, and 24% of white parents

·      Some 31% of African urban single parents were unemployed, as were 25% of coloured, 14% of Indian, and 5% of white parents.

·      Of the 9.1 million double orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2005, around 5.2 million (almost 60%) had lost at least one of their parents to AIDS

·      South Africa has 2 468 000 paternal orphans (2008 figures)

·      South Africa has 624 000 maternal orphans (2008 figures)

·      Almost half of all orphans and two-thirds of double orphans in South Africa were between the ages of 12 and 17 years.”

The facts speak for themselves. If this country is to reach its economic potential and provide a better life for all its citizens, then the family, or rather the broken family needs to be highlighted as an issue of national importance. Let us use the lessons that history provides to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the route that caused the demise of older and greater nations than ours.


This policy bulletin may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.


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