The Biggest Root Cause of Crime Is Fatherlessness (Jason L. Riley, Dec. 12, 2023, WSJ)
A new academic paper from the Institute for Family Studies doesn’t deny that economic conditions play a role in criminal behavior. And co-authors Rafael Mangual, Brad Wilcox, Joseph Price and Seth Cannon write that “changes in law-enforcement and the prosecution of criminals have also had a hand in the recent uptick in violent crime in American cities.” The paper’s main argument, however, is that family instability may be the biggest factor of all and that it’s not receiving the attention it deserves.
“Cities are safer when two-parent families are dominant and more crime-ridden when family instability is common,” the authors write. Nationwide, the total crime rate is about 48% higher in cities “that have above the median share of single-parent families, compared to cities that have fewer single-parent families.” Even when controlling for variables such as race, income and educational attainment, “the association between family structure and total crime rates, as well as violent crime rates, in cities across the United States remains statistically significant.”
Having a father around, the authors note, is about more than an additional paycheck. Fathers teach their sons responsibility, self-control, how to carry themselves, how to treat women. They tend to be more effective disciplinarians, and their involvement in childrearing is linked to positive outcomes in the academic development of their children, “especially in mathematics and verbal skills.” That finding “has been established for both sons and daughters but, unsurprisingly, it is especially pronounced among boys. The presence of married fathers is also protective against school suspensions and expulsions, as well as the risk of dropping out of high school.”
Between 1960 and 2019, the percentage of babies in the U.S. born to unwed mothers grew from 5% to almost 50%. “Shifts from the late-1960s to the 1990s away from stable families have left some cities, and especially some neighborhoods, vulnerable to higher rates of crime, especially violent crime,” the study concludes. “We need to realign material and cultural incentives in our cities to favor marriage and stable families, not undercut them.”