Fatherless Boys

January 8, 1999

How important are fathers? Maggie Gallagher, writing in the Wall Street Journal, documents that fatherless boys often grow up to be dangerous men. In a recent shooting spree, three boys were caught. They all had one thing in common: they came from homes broken by divorce or unwed parenting.

Maggie Gallagher doesn't believe that's just a coincidence. Until recently, statistical correlations were all we had to hint at a link between father absence and crime. Was the correlation due to fatherlessness or poverty? Since boys raised by single parents disproportionately come from disadvantaged backgrounds, perhaps the real cause was poverty or discrimination.

To answer these questions, Cynthia Harper, a demographer at the University of California, San Francisco, and Princeton's Sara McLanahan took the time to evaluate the data in a large national database. Their study offers a unique opportunity to calculate the true costs of family breakdown and compare theories of root causes of crime.

Here's what they found. Boys raised outside of intact marriages are, on average, more than twice as likely as other boys to end up jailed, even after controlling for other demographic factors. Each year spent without a dad in the home increases the odds of future incarceration by about 5 percent. They also found that a child born to an unwed mother is about 2 times as likely to end up imprisoned, while a boy whose parents split during his teenage years was about 1 times as likely to be imprisoned.

Does this mean that every boy from a broken home will be a criminal? Of course not. But it is a somber warning at a time when the divorce rate has doubled and the illegitimate birth rate has tripled. Fatherless boys often grow up to be dangerous men.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International