New and old shapes to the American family

Regarding "Altered state of American family" (Dec. 3): I have no quarrel with the assertion that children are best raised in stable, two-parent homes. It is for that reason that I do not have children. But I do not agree that we should add to the pressure currently placed on young people (especially girls) by "educat[ing] the next generation about the meaning and importance of marriage."

This appears to favor a return to the days when women who remained single (by choice or by chance) were viewed as "old maids" - or worse, as irredeemably flawed and undesirable. Despite the fact that a minority of households now adhere to this model, there is still significant pressure on women to aspire to it.

Rebecca Raether Madison, Wis.

Your article missed the point. Marriages and families haven't just been changing for a single generation, as your article says. Demographic data shows the shifts have taken place over the last 150 years at least.

The proportion of never-married people is the same today as it was at the turn of the century. The American divorce rate has been rising steadily since at least 1860. Marriage may have declined, but cohabitation has increased at about the same rate. We continue to fall in love and form families, just as we always have.

Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller Boston Alternatives to Marriage Project

Your article misses an obvious interpretation of the data.

The conclusion that many more children are growing up in less-structured families is not warranted since the drop in "married with children" is easily explained by the rise in "not married, no children." The category of "unmarried with children" remained virtually the same. One could infer that married people are waiting longer to have children, giving them the chance to solidify the relationship necessary to provide the loving home your article seems to suggest is disappearing.

David R. Quesnel New York

International insight through local eyes

Thank you for reprinting the Belfast Telegraph's editorial ("Over to you, Mr. Adams," Dec. 1). It is a fair and clear appraisal of where things now stand between the various factions that must support the new peace accords in Ulster - or decay into the chaos of more fighting and killing.

The reprinting of editorials from other international papers is a wonderful way to have your readership exposed to thoughts of those who are on the ground where the news is being made. Assessments made by domestic "experts" and our own political pundits will never match up with the insight and talent of "local" editors.

I would also like to say how much I've enjoyed your recent opinion articles, which are more along the lines of "reporting" than "pontificating." The emphasis must always be on the facts of the story rather than forecasting the potential for troubles. I'm especially glad to see the recent minimalization of "gloom and doom" from self-styled experts.

Glenn Young San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

'Conquest' of Mars?

The article "Mission to Mars searches for signatures of life" (Dec. 3) speaks of the latest "conquest" of the Red Planet. That word suggests a militaristic and acquisitive attitude surrounding Mars exploration. The Mars wilderness needs to be respected, not conquered.

It would be exciting to discover water on Mars, but while we await radio transmissions from the Mars Polar Lander, look at the polluted puddle we're standing in.

Mitch Hall and Beverly Red Vergennes, Vt.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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