One moment in the debate last night has turned, of course, into “Romney hates single moms”. No surprise that his words were twisted, but the point that Mitt Romney made was very important – two parent households provide the stability children need to grow up healthier, smarter, happier, less violent and wealthier. In researching the issue in order to back up what I have known is a truth, I tried to find studies that said the opposite of the above. The facts just don’t bear this out. Barring a parent leaving an abusive home for the protection of themselves and their children, children statistically are better off with married parents.
Here are the facts:
Mitt Romney made the following comment in the debate when asked about gun violence:
We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the — the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But, gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea. Because if there’s a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically. So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity, and bring them in the American system.
This is far from the “Romney hates single moms” twist that immediately sprung up in social media. Context matters, especially in this instance. Romney’s remarks were not meant in any way to denigrate single mothers or blame them for gun violence. Studies bear out that the relative stability of a two-parent, married household versus a single-parent, or even cohabitating parent, household makes a difference in children becoming violent.
The US Census Bureau found that children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C.: 2011.
When children are born to a single mother, they tend to show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Source: Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065-1083.
A study of 1,977 children age three and older living with a residential father or father figure found that children living with married biological parents had significantly fewer behavioral problems than children living with at least one non-biological parent. Source: Hofferth, S. L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: investment versus selection. Demography, 43, 53-78.
A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Source: Bush, Connee, Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. “Differences in Empathy Between Offender and Nonoffender Youth.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (August 2000): 467-478. 78, 132–147.
Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of committing crimes against property and against people. Source: Anderson, Amy L. “Individual and contextual influences on delinquency: the role of the single-parent family.” Journal of Criminal Justice 30 (November 2002): 575-587.
The problem isn’t just a problem in the US. In a study of INTERPOL crime statistics of 39 countries, it was found that single parenthood ratios were strongly correlated with violent crimes. This was not true 18 years ago. Source: Barber, Nigel. “Single Parenthood As a Predictor of Cross-National Variation in Violent Crime.” Cross-Cultural Research 38 (November 2004): 343-358.
A study published by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, noted that the decline in two-parent families has been closely linked with a rise in child poverty. It went on to say that changes in marriage and the family “appear to be depriving children of such documented benefits of marriage as better physical and emotional health and greater socioeconomic attainment.” Moreover, marriage, not just parents in the same household, was the key factor. Children in cohabiting households, although they tend to fare better economically than those in single-parent households, are worse off than those in married-parent households.
I have had discussions with many people about this issue. I know many fine people who were raised by single parents, and their success is a reflection of a parent who worked very hard to ensure their children were provided for and given what they needed. I also know people who grew up in miserable two parent households and had lives full of depression, crime, addiction and unhappiness. There will always be exceptions, but the statistics and studies found over and over that children raised in a two parent, married household fare better economically, educationally and emotionally than those who don’t. If we want a safer, happier country, promoting marriage, not banning guns, seems to be the better way to go.