New study: children who grow up with single parents more likely to see domestic violence

Domestic violence least likely in married homes
Domestic violence least likely in married homes

This is from Family Studies. (H/T Brad Wilcox)


In the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, parents of 95,677 children aged 17 and under were asked whether their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians, or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch, or beat each other up.” Among children living with both married biological parents, the rate of exposure to family violence was relatively low: for every 1,000 children in intact families, 19 had witnessed one or more violent struggles between parents or other household members. By comparison, among children living with a divorced or separated mother, the rate of witnessing domestic violence was seven times higher: 144 children per 1,000 had had one or more such experiences. (See Figure 1.) These comparisons are adjusted for differences across groups in the age, sex, and race/ethnicity of the child, family income and poverty status, and the parent’s education level.

One might suppose that women who had never married would be less likely to get into violent arguments with the fathers of their children than separated or divorced mothers. Yet the rate of witnessing domestic violence among children living with never-married mothers was also elevated. It was 116 per 1,000, six times higher than the rate for children in intact families. (Some of these fights involved subsequent partners or boyfriends of the mother, rather than the father of the child.) Even children living with both biological parents who were cohabiting—rather than married—had more than double the risk of domestic violence exposure as those with married birth parents: 45 out of 1,000 of these children had witnessed family fights that became physical. Note also that a child’s family structure was a better predictor of witnessing family violence than was her parents’ education, family income, poverty status, or race.

Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For example, among children of never-married mothers who had witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems at school requiring parental contact. The rate of school behavior problems for those who had not been exposed to family fights was significantly lower, though still fairly high (36 percent). Likewise, among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence—48 percent—had had conduct or academic problems at school. Even among the small number of children in intact families who had witnessed family violence, just over half—51 percent—presented problems at school. This was twice the rate of school problems among students from intact families who had not witnessed domestic violence. (See Figure 2.) These figures are also adjusted for differences across groups in age, sex, and race/ethnicity of children, family income and poverty, and parent education levels. Children experiencing domestic violence were also more likely to have repeated a grade in school and to have received psychological counseling for emotional or behavioral problems. This was true in intact as well as disrupted families.

A good book to read on this topic is Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom“, which offered this memorable anecdote about about how and why women choose men who abuse them.


The disastrous pattern of human relationships that exists in the underclass is also becoming common higher up the social scale. With increasing frequency I am consulted by nurses, who for the most part come from and were themselves traditionally members of (at least after Florence Nightingale) the respectable lower middle class, who have illegitimate children by men who first abuse and then abandon them. This abuse and later abandonment is usually all too predictable from the man’s previous history and character; but the nurses who have been treated in this way say they refrained from making a judgment about him because it is wrong to make judgments. But if they do not make a judgment about the man with whom they are going to live and by whom they are going to have a child, about what are they ever going to make a judgment?

“It just didn’t work out,” they say, the “it” in question being the relationship that they conceive of having an existence independent of the two people who form it, and that exerts an influence on their on their lives rather like an astral projection. Life is fate.

Chapter one:

All the more surprising is it to me, therefore, that the nurses perceive things differently. They do not see a man’s violence in his face, his gestures, his deportment, and his bodily adornments, even though they have the same experience of the patients as I. They hear the same stories, they see the same signs, but they do not make the same judgments. What’s more, they seem never to learn; for experience—like chance, in the famous dictum of Louis Pasteur—favors only the mind prepared. And when I guess at a glance that a man is an inveterate wife beater (I use the term “wife” loosely), they are appalled at the harshness of my judgment, even when it proves right once more.

This is not a matter of merely theoretical interest to the nurses, for many of them in their private lives have themselves been the compliant victims of violent men. For example, the lover of one of the senior nurses, an attractive and lively young woman, recently held her at gunpoint and threatened her with death, after having repeatedly blacked her eye during the previous months. I met him once when he came looking for her in the hospital: he was just the kind of ferocious young egotist to whom I would give a wide berth in the broadest daylight.

Why are the nurses so reluctant to come to the most inescapable of conclusions? Their training tells them, quite rightly, that it is their duty to care for everyone without regard for personal merit or deserts; but for them, there is no difference between suspending judgment for certain restricted purposes and making no judgment at all in any circumstances whatsoever. It is as if they were more afraid of passing an adverse verdict on someone than of getting a punch in the face—a likely enough consequence, incidentally, of their failure of discernment. Since it is scarcely possible to recognize a wife beater without inwardly condemning him, it is safer not to recognize him as one in the first place.

This failure of recognition is almost universal among my violently abused women patients, but its function for them is somewhat different from what it is for the nurses. The nurses need to retain a certain positive regard for their patients in order to do their job. But for the abused women, the failure to perceive in advance the violence of their chosen men serves to absolve them of all responsibility for whatever happens thereafter, allowing them to think of themselves as victims alone rather than the victims and accomplices they are. Moreover, it licenses them to obey their impulses and whims, allowing them to suppose that sexual attractiveness is the measure of all things and that prudence in the selection of a male companion is neither possible nor desirable.

Often, their imprudence would be laughable, were it not tragic: many times in my ward I’ve watched liaisons form between an abused female patient and an abusing male patient within half an hour of their striking up an acquaintance. By now, I can often predict the formation of such a liaison—and predict that it will as certainly end in violence as that the sun will rise tomorrow.

At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men was foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority—nine out of ten—reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful.

The blindness is wilful, because the emotions cannot be corrected by evidence. And everything in the culture affirms women in this craziness, even after they fail over and over again with men – cohabitating with the bad ones for years, and then turning away from the good ones. They freely choose the wrong men, and freely pass by the good ones. And almost no one tells them that it’s entirely their fault. Everyone just tells them “follow your heart”. This emotional craziness causes harm to innocent children, and it needs to stop. We have to stop the man-blaming and hold women accountable for making decisions with their emotions and then expecting craziness to “work out”.

You can read the Dalrymple book online for free in this post.

4 thoughts on “New study: children who grow up with single parents more likely to see domestic violence”

  1. I often see the “studies” about the effects of divorce/separation or single parenthood on children, and of course the news is always bad.

    It’s not that I dispute the findings, but I’d like to see them factor in another possibility – the effect on kids who live in homes with unhappy marriages. The ones where the parents are still together, but constantly bitter toward one another and at each others’ throats. Where there is little love and affection between the two.

    I’m not qualified to discuss this from a scholarly point of view. And yet, my own common sense would tell me a few things – it is hard for me to believe that such a situation is really any healthier for the children than divorce is. It’s hard to imagine kids coming out of a situation like that – one where a loving marital relationship was never demonstrated at home – and then growing up and having happy marriages of their own (and well adjusted kids of their own). Soon we’d be talking about three generations’ worth of screwed up people, wouldn’t we?

    I say this because I’ve lived it. I lived with the mother of my kids for years. We fought. And fought. And fought some more. Our home was a war zone, and both of us began to wonder if there was any connection to the way the older one had begun to “act out” in school.

    She was a miserable nagging shrew, and while I wasn’t perfect, it seemed like nothing I did was ever good enough. Whenever I tried to do the right thing, it was always lacking in quality, quantity or both. Eventually I just stopped trying much anymore…and things got even worse before she finally left (with the children in tow).

    I never understood why she was on my case so much. I didn’t drink. I wasn’t abusive. I never watched sports. I had a good job and had bought us a nice home to live in. I took the family to church on Sundays, I spent time with the kids on weekends to give her a break from caring for them, I took them to visit extended family. I cooked dinner most nights (she never cooked unless you count frozen food) and took the family to economy restaurants on nights I didn’t. I maintained the yard and either cleaned house or paid someone else to do it.

    The only real responsibility placed on her at home was to be sure the kids were fed and clothed – and I was paying the mortgage & all the household bills other than the kids’ expenses.

    In short I felt like I was a pretty decent guy, certainly compared to the guys I read about who were always getting drunk on Sunday afternoon watching football, gambling in casinos, or smoking pot & refusing to look for a job. I honestly came to believe that a God-fearing woman would be lucky to land a guy like me and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t appreciated.

    But I was the bad guy because now and then I’d had a bad day at work, and just wanted to be left alone for a couple of hours in the evening.

    Her and I are both single now and frankly we’re both happier. I miss the kids, but I just got so tired of her constantly telling me what a rotten dad I was. And am.

    I keep coming across articles like this one…

    …and nodding my head in agreement. I even tried forwarding a few of them, and none of it got through to her. She just didn’t care. We tried three counselors. The first one blamed me for everything. The second just sat there watching us fight. The third, she simply stopped going because she found it too inconvenient to work on our relationship in the evenings instead of watching brain-rotting TV programs on Netflix.

    What was I supposed to do, WK? Keep my kids with me in an unhappy relationship, or encourage her to take them & go, and worry about them becoming a statistic?

    By the time she finally left, I was pretty sure they’d suffer all the maladies of divorce even if her mother and I had stayed together.


    1. In this situation, there isn’t a lot you can do. The best thing is to avoid this situation by choosing a woman to marry who isn’t a nag and an entitled princess, but instead understands her duties and responsibilities in marriage and is eager to carry them out. Once you choose a poor marriage partner, things go downhill from there, barring some sort of miracle.

      I have seen a study, don’t remember where at the moment, that compared children in divorced homes versus married homes with lots of strife (though not violence) and concluded that children are better off in married homes, even with a bad marriage and parents arguing, as long as there isn’t outright violence. At least in a married home, there’s only one house to pay for (so they’re better off economically) and there is the daily influence of both parents, even if they don’t have a good marriage modelled for them. Obviously, having married parents with a good marriage is best, but even a fairly bad marriage is better than no marriage for children.


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