Growing up in a single parent home meant W. Bradford Wilcox spent a lot of time thinking about what it would have been like to have a dad in his life.

“My mom did a great job, but I think as an adolescent it would have been great to have a father in the picture, and I think that has shaped much of my life,” Wilcox told The Tidings in a Jan. 9 interview.

Wilcox, now the director of the National Marriage Project and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), will be one of several scholars and experts at the first annual Home Truths conference Jan. 24 in Anaheim. Hosted by IFS and the Wheatley Institution, the conference aims to explain the vital role of marriage in the lives of adults and children as well as give insights into what makes strong relationships and marriages today.

While the Institute for Family Studies is headquartered on the East Coast, Wilcox said he thought it was important to bring the research and conversation surrounding marriage to the West Coast as well.

“Los Angeles and Southern California are pretty important when it comes to shaping our national conversation and culture surrounding marriage and family life,” he said.

The conference will feature a diverse roster of speakers, including Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute; New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley; Jason Carroll of Brigham Young University and Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver.  

“It’s designed to be pretty accessible,” he said, “but I would qualify that by saying that all of our speakers in some way or another believe that marriage does play an important role in the lives of adults and especially of children.”

“This is not a religious conference or topic per say, it’s one that I think is aimed at all people of reasonably good will,” Wilcox added. “Marriage is not a religious institution alone, it’s a human institution, found in societies and civilizations that are extraordinarily different than ours.”

When asked about the state of marriage in the United States, Wilcox said that while marriages are struggling, it’s a more nuanced problem than one might think.

“The bottom line here is that we live in a country that is increasingly divided by marriage,” Wilcox said.  

He’s not talking about opinions on same-sex marriage. Similar to a widening economic gap between the rich and the poor, college-educated Americans are increasingly enjoying strong and flourishing marriages and families, while marriages among the working class and poor are struggling.

People on both ends of the political spectrum have speculated about what’s causing this divide.

“Liberals would tend to argue that it’s the changing economy that’s making it even harder for the working class to find stable jobs, while conservatives would tend to argue that it’s about bad welfare policies or changes in the culture,” he said. “I would say that they’re both right.”

Wilcox said the conference speakers will explore some ideas about how to strengthen marriages in society, such as eliminating the marriage penalty for poor families. Pop culture could also do more to realistically portray marriage and family and churches can do more to reach out to poor struggling families.

Churches actually have a lot at stake when it comes to supporting strong marriages and families, Wilcox said.

“People are less likely to engage (with a church community) when they’re divorced or never married, and kids are less likely to stick with a faith when they’re hailing from a non-intact family,” he said. “So the changing family landscape poses real pastoral challenges too for local institutions, including those in the Southern California region.”  

Actually most people, regardless of their personal marital status, can benefit from a society of strong marriages and families, Wilcox explained.

“Communities where marriages are stronger tend to be safer and are more likely to be flourishing,” he said, “so regardless of whether you yourself are married, that might have some effect on how you experience your own community or engage in your own community.”

The conference could also provide insights as to how one’s own family situation influenced their path in life, he added.

“Young adults, including singles, who were raised in stable families are likely to be flourishing in today’s labor markets and those coming from non-intact families might have more struggles, so this conference might provide insight into how their own family experiences have shaped their success in both the educational and economic realms today,” Wilcox said.

Two talks at the conference will also be devoted to providing young singles with practical steps they can take to prepare themselves for marriage, if that is what they see in their future.

“The evidence is pretty clear that if you do some things to prepare yourself, your odds of forging a successful marriage are stronger,” Wilcox said.

One thing that young people can do to prepare for marriage, which Galena Rhoades will discuss in her talk, is to be intentional about the levels of intimacy in their relationships.

“If you’re more decisive about the different stages of intimacy with someone, rather than just letting it happen, you’re much more likely to forge a strong marriage down the road,” Wilcox said.

More information about the Home Truths conference can be found here

Registration is free and can be found online here