In a recent post, “Single Moms Can’t be Scapegoated for the Crime Rate Anymore,” Philip Cohen tries to correct what he sees as an injustice in the way the United States’ crime rate is discussed. He writes that many pundits believed the crime wave of the late 1980s and early ’90s was caused by an increasing number of single mother families. However, as he shows in his charts, crime rates began declining in the early 1990s, even while the percentage of single-parent families continued to rise. In his mind, that means that family breakdown cannot explain the crime wave and “single mothers deserve an apology” from said pundits.
But by ignoring a host of policy and cultural shifts during that time, Cohen fails to prove his conclusion….
The bottom line is that there is a large body of literature showing that children of single mothers are more likely to commit crimes than children who grow up with their married parents. This is true not just in the United States, but wherever the issue has been researched. Few experts, including Cohen, dispute this. Studies cannot prove conclusively that fatherlessness—or any other factor—actually causes people to commit crimes. For that, you’d have to do the impossible: take a large group of infants and raise each of them simultaneously in two precisely equivalent households—except one would be headed by a father and mother and the other by a lone mother. But by comparing criminals of the same race, education, income, and mother’s education whose primary observable difference is family structure, social scientists have come as close as they can to making the causal case with the methodological tools available.
To say this is not to “scapegoat” or “blame” women; for one thing, fathers also play a role in the making of single-mother families. For another, blame personalizes what is a huge, global, and multi-causal demographic shift; it’s like saying economists are blaming laid-off employees for noting the decline in manufacturing jobs.