Turns Out Single Moms Aren’t All Raising Murderers
Sociology professor Philip Cohen shares some data from the Census Bureau to demolish the myth that single-parent households were responsible for rising crime rates starting in the ’60s.
Violent crime has fallen through the floor (or at least back to the rates of the 1970s) relative to the bad old days. And this is true not just for homicide but also for rape and other assaults. At the same time, the decline of marriage has continued apace.
Cohen doesn’t mention it, but the theory that single-parent families are definitively worse for kids’ outcomes is also undermined by comparing why families have one parent.
As you can see from this chart, children that were raised by single parents because of the death of one parent do almost as well as kids from two-parent families. This is almost certainly because, counterintuitively, genetics and peer-groups play a much larger role than parenting does.
So why has violence gone down recently? That requires a complex explanation, but the short answer is the state got more effective at controlling crime (e.g. locking more criminals up; hiring more cops). Additionally, although it’s harder to quantify, the 1990s saw the re-ignition of what Steven Pinker calls “The Civilizing Process” where more people began to feel like the criminal justice system was less capricious and more legitimate while the glorification of violence fell out of favor.
One positive legacy of the 1960s was the revolutions in civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and gay rights, which began to consolidate power in the 1990s as the baby boomers became the establishment. Their targeting of rape, battering, hate crimes, gay-bashing, and child abuse reframed law-and-order from a reactionary cause to a progressive one, and their efforts to make the home, work-place, schools, and streets safer for vulnerable groups (as in the feminist “Take Back the Night” protests) made these environments safer for everyone.
We may be able to make further progress by continuing to make the justice system more fair. Although the ‘War on Drugs’ may be responsible for locking up many criminals in its wide cage, it also delegitimizes the state’s authority in many communities where local citizens feel like the police are discriminatory, inconsistent, and untrustworthy.
Stable families are better for children, but there is no reason to blame single-mothers when they already have enough responsibilities.