It’s worse to be raised by a single mother than a married couple, even if you’re not poor

Here’s one of my favorite sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox writing about single motherhood in the left-leaning Slate.

Excerpt:

Take two contemporary social problems: teenage pregnancy and the incarceration of young males. Research by Sara McLanahan at Princeton University suggests that boys are significantly more likely to end up in jail or prison by the time they turn 30 if they are raised by a single mother. Specifically, McLanahan and a colleague found that boys raised in a single-parent household were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated, compared with boys raised in an intact, married home, even after controlling for differences in parental income, education, race, and ethnicity. Research on young men suggests they are less likely to engage in delinquent or illegal behavior when they have the affection, attention, and monitoring of their own mother and father.

But daughters depend on dads as well. One study by Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona found that about one-third of girls whose fathers left the home before they turned 6 ended up pregnant as teenagers, compared with just 5 percent of girls whose fathers were there throughout their childhood. This dramatic divide was narrowed a bit when Ellis controlled for parents’ socioeconomic background—but only by a few percentage points. The research on this topic suggests that girls raised by single mothers are less likely to be supervised, more likely to engage in early sex, and to end up pregnant compared with girls raised by their own married parents.

It’s true that poorer families are more likely to be headed by single mothers. But even factoring out class shows a clear difference. Research by the Economic Mobility Project at Pew suggests that children from intact families are also more likely to rise up the income ladder if they were raised in a low-income family, and less likely to fall into poverty if they were raised in a wealthy family. For instance, according to Pew’s analysis, 54 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in an intact two-parent home in the top-third of household income have remained in the top-third as adults, compared with just 37 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in a wealthy (top-third) but divorced family.

Why is this? Single mothers, even from wealthier families, have less time. They are less likely to be able to monitor their kids. They do not have a partner who can relieve them when they are tired or frustrated or angry with their kids. This isn’t just a question of taking kids to the array of pampered extracurricular activities that many affluent, two-parent families turn to; it’s about the ways in which two sets of hands, ears, and eyes generally make parenting easier.

I think that people who think that it is hatred and bigotry to say that there should be rules around marriage and sex understand the reasons for these moral boundaries. We are trying to protect the children, and so we have boundaries about who can have sex and who can get married. Children need a mother and a father, and we need to promote and celebrate that as marriage, and not anything else. We should be rewarding people for getting married and staying married.

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2 thoughts on “It’s worse to be raised by a single mother than a married couple, even if you’re not poor”

  1. This is a great article that brings into focus a serious problem affecting our culture. I agreed with Wilcox right until his conclusion:

    “Why is this? Single mothers, even from wealthier families, have less time. They are less likely to be able to monitor their kids. They do not have a partner who can relieve them when they are tired or frustrated or angry with their kids. This isn’t just a question of taking kids to the array of pampered extracurricular activities that many affluent, two-parent families turn to; it’s about the ways in which two sets of hands, ears, and eyes generally make parenting easier.”

    All he has done is shifted the explanation from money to time and patience, both of which are also manageable commodities. He completely misses the bigger picture; children are meant to be born into families that are meant to be permanent. When this is ripped apart by divorce, or never created in the first place, chaos ensues, whether or not there is plenty of time, money or parental patience.

    In fact, we are ALL meant to live in community, and our families are the primary expression of this. This includes honor your father and mother (the first commandment with a promise.)

    What a mess it is when we muck around with God’s order for things.

    Like

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