The Corner

Getting the Facts Wrong about Single Motherhood

Pamela Gwyn Kripke has a new but oh-so-70s piece on Slate celebrating single motherhood and taking me to task for suggesting that children in single-parent families are more likely to struggle. By her reckoning, children from single-parent homes are more likely to have the “grit” they need to thrive in today’s tough world, compared to children raised by their own married parents.

She even insists that there is “social science research” to back up this claim, linking to a New York Times op-ed by Katie Roiphe on single motherhood. In that piece, Roiphe claimed that research by Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan indicates that “there is no conclusive evidence that . . . single motherhood is itself dangerous to children.” 

This is simply false, and McLanahan was moved to write a letter to the New York Times taking issue with Roiphe’s distorted summary of research on fatherhood and family structure. Money quote from McLanahan: “Two parents committed to each other and to raising a child together are more likely to provide the economic and emotional security children need. That large numbers of fathers cannot provide economic and emotional security constitutes a serious social problem.”

To be sure, many children raised in single-mother homes turn out just fine. (I speak here from personal experience; my mom did a great job raising me on her own.) But, on average, the evidence couldn’t be clearer: Children are more likely to thrive when they are raised by their own married parents.

In fact, a recent Pew report found that even children who grew up in middle- and upper-income families are markedly less likely to succeed in life if their parents divorce. In the words of the report, “the children of divorce have lower rates of both absolute and relative income mobility compared with children whose mothers were continuously married between their birth and their 19th birthday.”

So, it would appear that children raised in an intact, two-parent home are in fact the ones more likely to have the “grit” (and the economic, social, and emotional support of their own married parents) to make good on the American dream.

— W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

W. Bradford Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


The Latest