Remember that saying about how single parent black women “raise their daughters and love their sons”? Some new research indicates that–despite the best attempts at raising responsible young boys who become marriageable men–single mothers simple are not as adept at rearing male children as they are at rearing female children.
In poor communities, women are increasingly choosing to become become pregnant and give birth without getting married to the men who impregnated. And for many of those women becoming a single parent seems like the rational choice. The men that are available to them are not marriageable by middle-class standards but the women still want to have children during their prime reproductive years. The end result is that the women have children with men whom they will probably never marry, men who are unlikely to remain romantically involved with the mother until the children turn eighteen, men who will have a limited role–if any–in their children’s lives.
These unwed mothers do the best they can but unfortunately their best is often not good enough and the mothers are unwittingly contributing to the creation of the same environment that encouraged them to become single parents.
Economic troubles of the last few decades that left low-skilled men with high unemployment rates are perhaps the main factor creating a scarcity of marriage-ready men in low-income communities. As quoted in a New York Times article, David H. Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has indicated that he has reviewed research which indicates that being raised in a single-parent home actually leads to worse outcomes for boys than it does for girls.
Professor Autor said in an interview that he was intrigued by evidence suggesting the consequences were larger for boys than girls, including one study finding that single mothers spent an hour less per week with their sons than with their daughters. Another study of households where the father had less education, or was absent entirely, found the female children were 10 to 14 percent more likely to complete college. A third study of single-parent homes found boys were less likely than girls to enroll in college.
“It’s very clear that kids from single-parent households fare worse in terms of years of education,” he said. “The gender difference, the idea that boys do even worse again, is less clear cut. We’re pointing this out as an important hypothesis that needs further exploration. But there’s intriguing evidence in that direction.”
Yes, more study is needed but it doesn’t seem like a stretch to assume that single women would be better at raising girls to become women than said single parents would be at raising boys to become men–especially considering that many of the men populating lower income communities are–using the same phrase Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University, uses to describe said men–“a mess.” The men that are surrounding these single women are a mess and these are the men that serve as models of manhood for young boys to model themselves off of men; these “mess” of a men are the men that the single women date in front of their children; these “mess” of a men are displaying the personality and behavioral characteristics that the single women ostensibly don’t want their own sons to model–but how do the women know how to train their son’s up to behave in any other way?
The evidence is suggesting that the end result of all this single parenting is what you would expect: A cycle of women having children with unmarriageable men and then the male children grow up to also be unmarriageable–wash, rinse, repeat.
At least one former policy wonk has woken up to the fact that something more needs to be done than removing any remaining stigma from single parent households. Jonathan Cowan, the president of Third Way, a center-left policy research organization, and a veteran of the Clinton administration said, “If Democrats have as their goal being the party of the middle class, they have to come to the realization that they’re not going to be able to get there solely through their standard explanations. We need to ask, ‘How can we get these fathers back involved in their children’s lives?”
Another good question might be, “How do we decrease the number of single parent households from being created in the first place?”
A good answer might be the one provided by Christopher Jenks: It’s time for society to help make make lower income men better prospects for marriage.
Source: “Study of Men’s Falling Incomes Cites Single Parents“–New York Times
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil