Is the root cause of crime poverty or fatherlessness?

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

If we were really serious about stopping crime, then we should go after the root cause of crime. So what is that root cause? The answer might surprise you.

Here is Dr. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation to explain:

Census data and the Fragile Families survey show that marriage can be extremely effective in reducing child poverty. But the positive effects of married fathers are not limited to income alone. Children raised by married parents have substantially better life outcomes compared to similar children raised in single-parent homes.

When compared to children in intact married homes, children raised by single parents are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems; be physically abused; smoke, drink, and use drugs; be aggressive; engage in violent, delinquent, and criminal behavior; have poor school performance; be expelled from school; and drop out of high school.[19] Many of these negative outcomes are associated with the higher poverty rates of single mothers. In many cases, however, the improvements in child well-being that are associated with marriage persist even after adjusting for differences in family income. This indicates that the father brings more to his home than just a paycheck.

The effect of married fathers on child outcomes can be quite pronounced. For example, examination of families with the same race and same parental education shows that, when compared to intact married families, children from single-parent homes are:

  • More than twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime;[20]
  • Twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems;[21]
  • Roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school;[22] and
  • A third more likely to drop out before completing high school.[23]

The effects of being raised in a single-parent home continue into adulthood. Comparing families of the same race and similar incomes, children from broken and single-parent homes are three times more likely to end up in jail by the time they reach age 30 than are children raised in intact married families. [24] Compared to girls raised in similar married families, girls from single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to have a child without being married, thereby repeating the negative cycle for another generation.[25]

Finally, the decline of marriage generates poverty in future generations. Children living in single-parent homes are 50 percent more likely to experience poverty as adults when compared to children from intact married homes. This intergenerational poverty effect persists even after adjusting for the original differences in family income and poverty during childhood.[26]

People on the left claim that poverty causes crime, but they don’t look for the root cause of poverty. The root cause of poverty is the decline of marriage, which produces fatherless children. Unfortunately, some people promote the decline of marriage because they do not like the “unequal gender roles” inherent in marriage. So what is the main tool that the anti-marriage people use to increase the number of fatherless children?

Dr. Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute explains one of the causes of fatherlessness in his testimony to Congress:

Welfare contributes to crime in several ways. First, children from single-parent families are more likely to become involved in criminal activity. According to one study, children raised in single-parent families are one-third more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior.(3) Moreover, O’Neill found that, holding other variables constant, black children from single- parent households are twice as likely to commit crimes as black children from a family where the father is present. Nearly 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes, as do 43 percent of prison inmates.(4) Research indicates a direct correlation between crime rates and the number of single-parent families in a neighborhood.(5)

As Barbara Dafoe Whitehead noted in her seminal article for The Atlantic Monthly:

The relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature. The nation’s mayors, as well as police officers, social workers, probation officers, and court officials, consistently point to family break up as the most important source of rising rates of crime.(6)

At the same time, the evidence of a link between the availability of welfare and out-of-wedlock births is overwhelming. There have been 13 major studies of the relationship between the availability of welfare benefits and out-of-wedlock birth. Of these, 11 found a statistically significant correlation. Among the best of these studies is the work done by June O’Neill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Holding constant a wide range of variables, including income, education, and urban vs. suburban setting, the study found that a 50 percent increase in the value of AFDC and foodstamp payments led to a 43 percent increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.(7) Likewise, research by Shelley Lundberg and Robert Plotnick of the University of Washington showed that an increase in welfare benefits of $200 per month per family increased the rate of out-of-wedlock births among teenagers by 150 percent.(8)

The same results can be seen from welfare systems in other countries. For example, a recent study of the impact of Canada’s social-welfare system on family structure concluded that “providing additional benefits to single parents encourages births of children to unwed women.”(9)

The poverty that everyone complains about is not the root cause of crime. The poverty is caused by fatherlessness. The fatherlessness is caused by welfare. Fatherlessness is also caused by laws and policies that make it easier for people to divorce, e.g. – no-fault divorce laws. Again, it’s people on the left who push for no-fault divorce laws. So the left is pushing two policies, welfare and no-fault divorce, which cause crime.

16 thoughts on “Is the root cause of crime poverty or fatherlessness?”

  1. “The poverty is caused by fatherlessness. The fatherlessness is caused by welfare. Fatherlessness is also caused by laws and policies that make it easier for people to divorce, e.g. – no-fault divorce laws. Again, it’s people on the left who push for no-fault divorce laws. So the left is pushing two policies, welfare and no-fault divorce, which cause crime.”

    What’s particularly insidious about this situation is that while the left push for these policies, too many mainstream conservatives carry on as though these policies are in no way to blame for the problems we see in society.

    Consider the Heritage Study you quoted. The word “divorce” is not even mentioned once in the entire article, in spite of the fact that women get child custody 90 percent of the time when a divorce occurs (meaning the kids 90 percent of the time in a divorce end up in a home without a farther)

    Is it not strange to completely ignore the correlation of divorce with fatherless homes?


  2. This is quite true. Actually poverty doesn’t cause crime at all, something I really resent hearing from the left because it’s rather demeaning and promotes negative stereotypes. Look at all the rich and famous of Hollywood and the cesspool of some of those lives, suicide, drug addiction, car wrecks. Heck, look at all our congresscritters.That age old truth is still true, money doesn’t by happiness. It also doesn’t buy morality, class, or common sense.

    Fathers provide things we haven’t even begun to fully understand, but it goes way beyond economics. They shape our future relationships and mold our very perceptions of ourselves and others. Poverty is really more of a state of mind in the US, a kind of poverty of spirit, rather then a whole lot of lack and need.


  3. I’d like to see a direct comparison between impoverished two-parent families (mother and father) versus impoverished single-parent families with regards to crime rate, the percentage of children from each in prisons or in trouble with the law. I would agree that the lack of a father is more an issue than merely the lack of a few bucks.


    Compare the crime rate of the impoverished during the Great Depression to the crime rate of the impoverished today.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m pretty sure that we only invented welfare to buy the votes of women who destroyed their families after we had already invented no fault divorce, which makes welfare and the single mother problem discussed in this blog post really products of something even baser, which is to say no fault divorce. That’s one of the many, many reasons to get rid of no fault divorce.


    1. Correct. But I want to clarify that *WE* didn’t invent no-fault divorce, it was invented by radical feminists and trial lawyers. We accepted it because we believed their sob stories about poor women bring trapped in “unhappy” marriages through no fault of their own. Apparently, women slip and fall and find themselves married to men against their will. The root cause of no-fault divorce is the view that marriage should be entertainment and produce happy feelings, instead of involve a self-sacrificial commitment that requires hard work.


      1. As Dalrock remarked, “Three ancient words with a mystic power so great they cause God Himself to forget about her promise:

        I’m not haaaaapy.”


        1. It’s amazing to me that women can read the Bible and come out of it with a vision of marriage that is all about fun and thrills, travel and comfort. Marriage is about self-denial, moral obligations, forgiveness and loving other people self-sacrificially. Women are supposed to be supportive helpers to men, and men are supposed to love their wives by protecting and providing and leading on moral and spiritual issues. And yet I see so many women going after younger men they can control, so that they can make the relationship all about feeling happy and having fun. Where is that in the Bible? I find a lot of women shy away from marriage if they think that it will be hard work, but that’s just what marriage is – that’s the only way that it lasts, is when two people resolve to treat it as a commitment – an enterprise – that produces long-term results.


          1. “And yet I see so many women going after younger men they can control, so that they can make the relationship all about feeling happy and having fun.”

            This is indirectly related to fatherlessness, but we see is that women intentionally put off marriage in their twenties because they mistakenly believe the incredible amount of attention they receive from men in the form of dates, compliments, and even marriage proposals is there to last, when in reality it’s fleeting.*

            The (un)spoken plan is that they will settle down when they are finished “having fun,” at which point they fully expect those men will still be waiting for her. The problem is, the male attention is now on the younger girls they used to be. Hence, you get the “where have all the good men gone?” line, because all the men their age either got hitched or aren’t interested in them. Hence, the aging career gal seeks out the younger, more impressionable man because like most young men he’s still thinking with the wrong part of his body and has been offered zero practical advice on women or marriage from their father or the church.

            In the meantime, what kind of man is she going to date while she’s in her twenties and looking to avoid marriage; the “good man” who wants to get married and have kids, or the Harley McBadboy who will never propose because he’s just interested in having sex while she is young and attractive?

            It would be interesting, if possible, to discover if there is a correlation between fatherlessness and this kind of dating strategy.


  5. “It’s amazing to me that women can read the Bible and come out of it with a vision of marriage that is all about fun and thrills, travel and comfort…”

    With all due respect, it’s pretty incredible what some men manage to read there, too.


  6. I’ve always found it interesting that all these self-proclaimed social justice warriors will support policies that undermine marriage and therefore further the poverty they claim to hate.
    If you’re truly concerned about”social justice” (whatever that means), you’ll first and foremost fight to defend the institution of traditional marriage.


    1. I don’t think they understand the consequences of destroying the family. It’s not just poverty, it’s harm to women and children in unsafe, unstable environments, too.


  7. The truth about welfare is very simple. It should be known that welfare is not a career. It was established to help people get back on their feet while going through a hardship. The system is making no effort to restrict benefits or rights of the lazy. I know many people on welfare, both black and white, and I must say that most of them drive nicer cars than me and definitely eat better than my family. There should be a cap on benefits. If they would make benefits the same for everyone and stop raising it per child maybe these lazy ass people will find that there is more to do than get pregnant and shop with clothing vouchers that the working man pays for. Welfare should also have a cap on how long you can collect benefits. Recipients should be drug tested and should also lose the right to vote. Why should they be able to vote for people that make decisions on topics like taxes when they don’t pay any?


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