The aspirational challenge facing fatherless sons

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.”

  • FatherLess Son

    What a keen “Grasp of the Obvious” : Men have been disposable : Now we see the consequence : and wonder : “What To Do “?….Geez.. Connect some dots!..Better yet ask the feminist in your college Ms. Hymowitz to explain what’s happened/ happening as a result of who needs men?

  • JamesC

    So much to write about and so little space. This is not a new discovery-this has been happening for two maybe three generations. There are things that we can do. We need to get back to basic parenting 101. We need to agree as a community that a problem does exist and it is extremely serious. There needs to be a culmination of energy and resources that are sustained and reliable–and not for just a photo op and at election time. In my estimation the issue with fatherless sons is THE most important number 1 social issue of our time. In my book ‘A Mans Work Is Never Done . . . A Novel About Mentoring Our Sons’ I write about some of the things that can be done and what needs to happen-now-to begin the healing process. All the things that have been said around the propensity to violence etc. are true certainly but I must take exception to the statement that says “clear rules” and “structure” and literacy programs can help make up for what . . . Many things have to happen before a young man is going to hear anything about rules and structure. Let’s talk about what those are first. I’m not sure that the research is all that accurate anyway. You can’t quantify what’s in a young man’s heart and so, depending on the questions and how they are asked, the findings are questionable. Dialogue is a much better place to start in my estimation. And when speaking about the value of step-fathers perhaps we need to help the moms who are choosing their partners to be a bit more selective about who they partner up with. It is no secret that the way to a mom’s heart is through her kids. Get the kids to like the candidate somehow and mom will be much more impressed. Doesn’t always make for the best partnerships though. Look forward to your response–JamesC