Study: Poverty, Single Mother Families Hit Boys Harder than Girls

January 4, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

There’s more evidence that this country’s 40-year experiment with easy divorce and expendable fathers isn’t working. Moreover, this article reports on a major reason why it’s not working (CNSNews, 12/30/15).

The study, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that boys raised in “disadvantaged” homes, do substantially worse than girls raised in those same homes. By “disadvantaged,” the researchers meant “poverty, low education level of the mother, and not having a father in the house.” Of course those things tend to go hand in hand. An absent father tends to mean lower income for the family and families without fathers tend to have mothers with lower education levels than those with. For example, the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing in this country is about 41%, but among mothers with a college education, it’s more like 8%.

And single mothers with minor children are more likely than any other segment of society to live in poverty. According to the Census Bureau, those mothers earn, on average, just $23,000 per year.

So those three disadvantages studied by the researchers tend to coexist.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northwestern University, and the University of Florida analyzed ten years of administrative records for Florida students born between 1992 and 2002.

They found that boys in families facing adverse circumstances significantly underperformed their sisters in behavioral and educational outcomes despite the fact that they had similar upbringings.

The study, which was published in October, compared sibling students of opposite gender in Florida, and found a substantial “gender gap” between boys and girls. Researchers found that a large portion of school suspensions, poor test scores, and cognitive or behavioral disabilities could be accounted for by “family disadvantages.”

"Family disadvantage makes both a substantial direct contribution to the gender gap as well as an indirect contribution through its influence on schools and neighborhoods," they noted.

This is not news, but the new study represents additional valuable information to which policymakers should pay attention. (Of course there’s a lot of social science they should heed, but so far have proven remarkably averse to.)

The study looked mostly at educational and cognitive outcomes, as well it might. Family courts, with the avid cheerleading of pop culture, started tossing fathers out of their children’s lives with the advent of no-fault divorce in the late 1960s. By 1982, more than half of college enrollees were women. Now the gender imbalance on college campuses is approaching 60/40 in favor of women, and yet virtually no one with policymaking authority seems to notice or care.

The simple fact is that, among many other causes of the decline of boys’ educational achievement, the absence of fathers probably ranks Number One. If we fix laws on parenting time for divorcing couples, we’d take a giant stride toward fixing boys’ lagging performance in school.

And boys’ educational deficits aren’t the only thing impacted by single-mother upbringing.

"The impact of family disadvantage on the outcomes of boys relative to girls is already evident by the time of kindergarten entry, is further manifested in behavioral and educational gaps in elementary and middle-school performance, and crystallizes into sharp differences in high school graduations by age 18 and criminal activity by age 16,” the study concludes.

Now, you’d think that responsible office-holders would jump on information like this and craft laws promoting father involvement in children’s lives. First and foremost that would mean requiring family courts to order shared parenting absent a showing of unfitness. But rather than throw the stone that would kill so many birds – educational deficits, criminality, mental health problems, poverty, etc. – political elites are so far content to pretend that it’s just the natural fecklessness of men to ignore their kids.

There’s nothing to back up such nonsense, but shouting from the sidelines for men to stop being “deadbeats,” is a lot easier than actually doing something to address perhaps the worst single social problem we face. And promoting shared parenting will run any legislator afoul of feminist groups that, for the past four decades have uniformly opposed any and all improvements to the plight of divorced or separated dads.

Wisely, the CNSNews article consulted Christina Hoff Sommers, who knows a thing or two about elite resistance to sensible, constructive change.

“There have been similar findings,” she replied. “A few years ago, a think tank called the Third Way – it’s a bipartisan group of social scientists and researchers who looked at social problems and try to cancel out one another’s biases, you have liberals and conservatives – and they found that boys are more vulnerable to family instability than girls. And especially hard hit are working class White, Hispanic, and African American boys, working class and poor.”

“The Third Way found it in their research, and now again we have a group of researchers who have documented the same phenomena," she continued…

“There’s a tremendous focus on the academic needs of girls, everything is tilted towards the needs of girls. Now these programs for girls are great, and girls are benefitting.

“But where are the programs for boys? I can’t find them. And I do find opposition. If you try to do something for boys, some people will accuse you of carrying out a backlash against girls,” Sommers continued.

And there you have it. Real solutions to major problems are sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of all of this is that we’ve seen Act One of this play, but, awful as that was, we’re sticking around for Act Two. Well before white America went down this road, black America had already been there. Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm back in the 1960s about the problem of no-father families among African-Americans, and he was right on target. Since then, single-mother childbearing and childrearing among black Americans has risen to astonishing levels and dysfunction among black boys and young men followed apace.

So what do white Americans do? The same thing. Oh, whites haven’t “gone all in” to the same extent, but still, you’d think they’d have figured out the dangers of raising children without fathers, given the object lesson before them. But no. The same old dishonest and threadbare arguments against equality in family court get trotted out with nothing to support them. And when they do, lawmakers roll over like puppies waiting for a tummy rub from those whose antipathy for fathers is well documented.

As I’ve said so often, we know the problem and we know the solution. The problem is fatherlessness and the solution is the reform of family law to ensure that children maintain whole relationships with both parents post-divorce. But our political system is failing us. Time after time it refuses to do the obvious.

History will not look kindly on that failure and studies like this one will stand like gravestones in memory of what might have been.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#fatherlessness, #poverty, #familycourtreform, #boys, #children’swelfare

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