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January 13th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A major study by researchers at the University of Chicago has found that boys’ educational outcomes suffer more than girls’ from single-parent upbringing.  Read about it here (The Telegraph, 1/3/12).  The effects of single-mother households on boys exceeded expectations and were found to be greater than those of other factors such as the sex of teachers or the type of school attended.

It found that boys were much more likely to misbehave, be excluded from school and go on to achieve low grades after rebelling against “emotionally distant” parents.

The pattern is particularly marked in single-parent families where mothers “invest disproportionately less in their sons or feel less warm toward them” than daughters…

Researchers in the United States tested various theories to explain bad behaviour and low standards among boys and concluded that “home-based” influences played a much bigger part than biological differences, the style of early education, teacher gender or peer pressure.

“Boys’ likelihood to ‘act out’ is sharply reduced when faced with larger and better parental inputs,” said the study.

“As these parental inputs are typically higher and of better quality in intact families, this largely contributes to why boys with single mothers are so much more disruptive and eventually face school suspension.”

It’s no surprise that intact families raise children whose educational outcomes are better on average than those of single-parent families.  We’ve known that for decades.  What’s new about the Chicago study is that it specifically targets the bad effects on boys and their cause – being raised by single mothers. 

But why would boys suffer more than girls when brought up by single mothers?  It turns out the study answers that as well.

The study found that indiscipline reduced among boys brought up by two parents and increased sharply among those raised by single-mothers.

Researchers said a “higher levels of parental investment may prevent more of these at-risk boys from developing [behaviour] problems”, adding that this was much more likely to occur in traditional families.

The relationship between family structure and behaviour appeared to be “much weaker” for girls, it was claimed.

“It is possible that single mothers invest disproportionately less in their sons, or feel less warm toward them,” said the study. “Indeed, we show that single mothers seem relatively more emotionally distant from their sons and are also more likely to have reported spanking their sons.” 

For about two decades, we’ve watched as boys fell further and further behind girls in school.  A large number of influences have been posited as contributing to boys’ decline.  Teaching methods, the way classes are run, the overabundance of female teachers and more have been suggested to explain boys poor performance in school.  But the Chicago study looks like a landmark.  Many of us intuited that single-parent families were at fault but were unable to explain why they disproportionately affected boys.  Now we may be on the path to certainty.

Over 40% of children in the United States are born to single mothers; that’s over 1.6 million each year.  Of course not all of those will be raised in single-parent households, but research clearly shows that unmarried childbearing is a major factor in relationship breakdown among adults.  Put simply, if a man and woman aren’t married when they have a child, they’re much more likely to part ways than if they are.  That means the child will likely be brought up by a single mother.

Likewise, over one million divorces are finalized in this country each year.  Even after decades of research showing the benefits of fathers to children, family courts still haven’t gotten the message.  They still overwhelmingly grant primary custody to mothers and give fathers only minimal visitation.  They then refuse to enforce that visitation.  The result?  The children are brought up almost exclusively by single mothers.

Of course some of those mothers remarry, but the pattern is clear; more and more children are being brought up by single mothers than ever before.  That pattern started in the 60s among African-American families and began to be adopted by others in the 70s.  Boys’ educational performance started to decline and studies started showing it in the mid-80s.  By the mid-90s, there was no longer any doubt that girls were outstripping boys in school, but even at present, there’s little or no interest among policy makers in addressing the problem.

That mindset closely mirrors that of feminist groups like the American Association of University Women, who, as late as 2009, were still doggedly spinning statistics in a vain effort to convince themselves, if no one else, that boys needed no special attention in school.

Now it turns out that school is only part of the problem, and maybe not the biggest one at that.  The more we know about the pernicious effects of single-parent upbringing on children, the worse single-parenting looks.  The Chicago study indicates that single mothers are uniquely bad at raising boys.  That’s something that demands changes in public policy, and family courts lead the pack of those in need of change.

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