Almost a quarter of all American children under the age of 18 live in a home without a father. 70% of those children are living in poverty. The term ‘single mother’, used to describe women raising children in a home without a father, is not entirely accurate, given that over half of these mother are collecting child support, indicating they are single women as opposed to single parents. By contrast, nearly 70% of single men raising children are single parents, receiving no support from the other parent of the child.
Single women raising children without a father face a number of serious impediments to securing the well-being of both themselves and their children. Psychologist E. Mavis Heatherington found that one in four children being raised by single women ‘have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems’, compared to children raised in a home with both a mother and a father. Children raised in homes without fathers find it difficult to move up the economic ladder, or even to remain at the same level of income once a father is removed from the home. According to the Economic Mobility Project at Pew, ‘54 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in an intact two-parent home in the top-third of household income have remained in the top-third as adults, compared with just 37 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in a wealthy (top-third) but divorced family’. Regardless of where a child starts on the economic ladder, the loss of a father from his or her home has an impact on future economic well-being.
There are three important ways single women raising children are failing those children.
Single women raising sons have a difficult time helping those sons avoid criminal enterprise that results in jail time. A study from Princeton University found that boys raised without a father were ‘two to three times more likely to end up in jail before they turned 30’ than boys who grew up with a father present in the home. Single women raising children who introduced another man to the household had sons who found it even more challenging to avoid incarceration. Boys raised with a stepparent faced the highest risks of being jailed.
Single women raising daughters without fathers present in the home were less successful at helping daughters avoid falling pregnant as teenagers than mothers raising girls with fathers. Girls raised without the influence of their father in their daily lives were more thanfive times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers compared to girls raised with their fathers, creating a cycle of single women raising children without fathers.
Both boys and girls benefit academically from having their natural father present in the home. Given that education is one of the key determinants of economic success, children raised in homes without fathers are less likely to achieve independence and self-sufficiency. This is confirmed by economic mobility rates for children of all income levels, who do not have a father present in their homes. Single women who introduce new men into their households do not see the benefits of increased academic achievement passed on to their children. Only natural fathers consistently provide guidance and assistance to children with homework and other academic pursuits, resulting in higher achievements for children.
The long-term impact of single women raising children without a father present in the home is to create a cycle of poverty and reduced opportunity to escape those conditions. Daughters face elevated risks of becoming pregnant when adolescents, while sons face increased risks of being imprisoned. Both sons and daughters suffer academically without guidance and support from natural fathers. Taken together, families without fathers become entrenched in poverty with severely limited opportunities to take advantage of social mobility. Single women under the impression that raising children without a father in the home is a value neutral choice should perhaps consider whether they consider pregnant daughters, incarcerated sons and blighted futures for both also value neutral, because those are likely outcomes for children raised without their natural fathers.
[Ed. note: this post originally appeared at the Examiner and is reprinted here with permission.]