Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

About Joanne


  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    But… but… but… a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!

    We guys may have our faults, but we never thought women were *useless*. When we were structuring society in our sexist, barbaric ways, there were always things for women to do. Valuable things. Things that kept the wheels on civilization.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      But, in this circumstance, it’s not so much the woman who needs the man but the woman’s offspring (particularly their sons).

  2. In all these studies the difficulty is to disentangle the environmental effects from the genetic effects. The biological fathers and mothers of single parent children may be systemically different from the biological fathers and mothers of two parent children. Are we seeing the environmental effects of single parent families or genetic effects?
    There is a similar problem in studying whether physical abuse of a child tends to make the child more violent. For example Stalin was frequently and severely beaten as a child. (After one beating he had blood in his urine for a week.) Was Stalin the kind of person he was because of the physical abuse he received as a child or did he simply inherit the genes which made his parents so violent?

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Fortunately for the individuals involved, there are not many–not enough–identical twins separated at birth to answer your question.
      There is a concept called, because I made it up, “paragenetic”. That’s behavior influenced by family and neighborhood culture so homogeneous that it may as well be genetic. And it can be passed on.
      So answering your question would involve a great many studies, each purporting to control for something or other and not likely to convert the skeptical as to the degree of control.
      Oh, yeah. There’s also the narrative. We are all Chris Lane. Or, no. We’re not.

  3. Divorce! Shacking up! No sweat!

    Children are resilient. They are way better off away from all the drama. Everybody knows a single mom can do just as good a job as a married couple of raising children.

    Damned religious zealots, trying to force their outdated rules on the rest of us.

    Oh, shit.