Single Father by Choice: The Newest Trend
Is it any better for kids than single motherhood?


Ian Tuttle

The decline of husband-wife households with biological children, accompanied by the massive increase of unmarried opposite-sex households, indicates that family structures are indeed changing. And given the increasing rate of out-of-wedlock births and the overwhelming tendency of cohabiting couples with children to break up, that raises concerns.

But what does this have to do with single fatherhood by choice?

Study after study has confirmed that single motherhood has detrimental consequences for children. The children of single mothers are more likely to end up impoverished, unemployed, poorly educated, and imprisoned. Today, 53 percent of all births to women younger than 30 are to women who are not married. Because of single motherhood, writes Kay Hymowitz in the Spring 2012 issue of City Journal, “not only do we have more poverty, inequality, and [social] immobility; we have the makings of a caste society, with an inherited elite and an entrenched proletariat.”

Some would counter that it is not growing up with a single mother that is the problem but the instability that so often causes single motherhood: divorce and the like. A single mother by choice would avoid those messy situations. But few single parents, male or female, remain permanently single. They generally enter into new married or cohabiting or dating relationships, injecting a measure of instability into their children’s lives.

The problems that face children of single mothers are a direct consequence of growing up with a missing parent in a situation characterized by flux. And there is little reason to believe that children who grow up today under “enlightened” 21st-century SMCs, guided by sages such as Louise Sloan, will be spared the detrimental effects of those born to the trailblazing SMCs of the 1960s, or to mothers who separated or divorced, whose cohabiting relationships ended, or who bore children because of a “hookup.”

To consider the question of SFCs, then, one needs only to turn the question around: If it is decidedly detrimental to grow up without a father, will it be similarly detrimental to grow up without a mother? As early as 1986, Sara McLanahan, currently the William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, showed that, when it came to determining “whether children of single parents [are] more likely than others to become single parents themselves and become dependent on welfare . . . living with a single father has the same consequences as living with a single mother.” In fact, McLanahan’s early research showed that single-father families were more likely than their single-mother counterparts to produce welfare-dependent, single parents. If the problem for children raised by single mothers is imbalance — all mom, no dad — it is absurd to believe that tipping the scale completely to the opposite side — all dad, no mom — would be any better.

But the trend that Holt represents is plagued by variables, the most complicated (and sensitive) of which is the sexual orientation of the parent.

Mark Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study was published earlier this month to much hand-wringing, particularly from the LGBT community, because it confirmed that even if same-sex households are not bad for children, the traditional household of two married parents with a biologically related child is definitely good. Regnerus’s study admits of some reasonable criticism, but his findings are nonetheless worrisome: Young adults whose fathers had had same-sex relationships were more likely than children raised by their biological parents to be involved in crime, to have sexually transmitted diseases, to have been forced into sex against their will. They were five times as likely as children raised by biological parents to report recent suicidal thoughts.

The question that no one can definitively answer is how children of single homosexual fathers will fare. But if the answer is uncertain, it’s probably not impossible to predict. What is certain is that the single-father arrangement raises serious concerns, which NPR and others who laud the creation of a “new” “alternative” family are content to overlook.

It’s important to recognize that many children raised in these nontraditional arrangements will end up as healthy, productive, morally upright members of society, and that the men who adopt them or raise them with the help of surrogacy will love them and provide for them.

But the evidence indicates strongly that more often single fathers by choice are not doing what is best for the kids. And shouldn’t putting kids first be the goal?

— Ian Tuttle is an editorial intern at National Review.