by Ryan Streeter on November 11, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.
Kids who grow up with with single moms have a tougher go of it – but especially boys.
“[J]ustice experts have long known that juvenile facilities and adult jails overflow with sons from broken families,” writes Kay Hymowitz.
So we need to provide more generous welfare support to single mothers, right? Well, maybe we do, but that question is unrelated to outcomes among boys. Hymowitz writes:
[T]he link between criminality and fatherlessness holds even in countries with lavish social welfare systems. A 2006 Finnish study of 2,700 boys, for instance, concluded that living in a non-intact family at age 8 predicted a variety of criminal offenses.
Even those boys who don’t get in trouble with the law struggle.
Several studies have concluded that boys raised in single-parent homes are less likely to go to college than boys with similar achievement levels raised in married-couple families; girls show no such gap.
So, conventional wisdom goes, a boy raised by a single mom needs a man in his life, right? Unfortunately, research doesn’t show that a mentor, an uncle, or a friend makes that much of a difference. Stepfathers, especially, don’t make up the difference:
Professors Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan found that among boys they studied, the ones without fathers were more likely to be incarcerated, but they also found that those who lived with stepfathers were at even higher risk of incarceration than the single-mom cohort.
Unfortunately, Hymowitz concludes, we just don’t have very good answers for this conundrum. She suggests that “clear rules” and “structure” and literacy programs can help make up for what boys lose by not having their dads at home. But ultimately, she says, when boys see that men have become superfluous in their communities, it cannot help but “depress their aspirations.”