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February 16, 2007



I think you might be extrapolating from the personal to the general there. Of course you are right, the majority don't become criminals - yet alone gun-toting criminals, a vanishingly small percentage - but the point is that the likelihood of becoming one is statistically far more likely in a single-mother household.

just the messenger

Recusant is quite right. The 2% statistic doesn't tell us anything unless we know how it compares to the percentage of men from non-single-mother households (or by extension from all households in the population) who become gun criminals. My guess is that 2 out of every 100 households in the population at large don't become gun criminals.

john b

While I can't be bothered to look up the evidence right now, I'd happily stake my life on there being a strong correlation between men who commit serious crimes and men who fail to stick around as fathers.

Chris's point, which is entirely correct, is that unless we control for "good" vs "bad" fathers, the fact that crime rates are higher in men who grew up in single-parent households than in men who grew up in two-parent households is not relevant.


Recusant has it right. You say that "it would be odd to say that x causes y when over 98% of xs don't cause y" -- well, it might be counter-intuitive, but it's not self-evidently wrong. On a rough-and-ready theory of probabilistic causation, the figure we're primarily interested in is P(B/A)- P(B/┬ČA) -- where A is the putative cause and B the putative effect -- not the absolute value of P(B/A). Of course, if P(B/A) is low, it implies that the forcing is weak and policymakers might be better off directing their efforts elsewhere, but we already knew that, right?


John B -- you don't control for the factor you're investigating.

Mark Wadsworth

There's a further point, let us imagine that criminality and recklessness in general is a genetic trait, like musicality or colour blindness.

Now a man who f*cks once and then f*cks off is more likely to be a reckless man, hence he is more likely to pass on the reckless gene to his children. I suppose the same applies to the mother really. Maybe if he had stayed around, the children would be even more likely to become criminals, I don't know, not relevant here.

Now it may be true that only 2% or 1% or 0.5% of fatherless children become gun criminals, the real question is, what is the percentage for kids who grew in normal nuclear two-parent household, how do the figures compare? Like other posters here, I am quite convinced that children who are from single parent families are more likely to commit crimes, shooting a 15 year old in cold blood just being the tip of the iceberg.

The fact that being fatherless only "causes" you to be a gun criminal in 1% of cases does NOT mean that it is NOT a cause. Let's say only 1% of skiers break their legs, skiing is still a direct cause of that broken leg.


Jon, surely they would be investigating single parents; controlling for the nature of the father would be a desirable thing to do, although hardly possible to do completely, given that not being around is a trait of the father. Other 'father traits', though, could be controlled (such as, whether the father has a criminal record). Indeed, if you are only interested in absence of the father and its effect, you'd have to control for other factors, like criminal record, violent tendencies, mental illness, etc. Otherwise, you're rolling all of that stuff into the issue you're looking at, which would rather lack precision.


Adam -- as I see it, the very question is the effect of the paternal contribution, so I just don't get why you would want to control for that factor. Bad fathers make negative contributions, good fathers positives ones, and non-paying absentee fathers make no contributions at all.


Jon, the overall point is about absent fathers, though, isn't it? We can all agree, fine upstanding conservatives and morally derelict communist lefties alike, that bad parenting leads to Bad Outcomes.

Of course, it's not like there's a great deal that we can do about it, although if I can shamelessly plug something I wrote earlier today, maybe access to decent education will help in the long term:


Laban Tall

The other argument against single parenthood is that it creates a 'warrior class' of males who father children but don't raise them. Young males have always been interested in fighting, taking things from people outside their tribe, having sex.

The great glory of the welfare state and the sexual revolution is that adolescence for males has been extended from its ancient bounds of 15-20 to something like 13-40 - indeed for some beyond that. In ancient days (the Golden Age that never was) the disciplines of work and marriage subdued man's natural tendencies to naughtiness of all kinds. No work meant no food - and perhaps more important for socialisation, no respect from your peers. It also meant no marriage - and no marriage meant no sex - unless you were wealthy, lucky or unusually desirable.

Welfare's rendered all that unnecessary - you can get laid, hang out, rob from outsiders - all at other people's expense.

Chris Williams

About two years ago I decided never to rise to Laban's bait, but this one has got my goat rather too much...

Laban, read Fielding's _Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase in Robberies in the Metropolis_. Or shut up.

Annie Parron

Is the issue truly the lack of a father OR could it be related to income levels? Unfortunately, single parent homes statistically have lower average incomes. Lower incomes can lead to more unsupervised time for the children since the parent(s) may be working long hours or even several jobs to eek out a living. And, lower incomes can lead to fewer opportunties and/or positive role models for the kids. i don't believe being raised in a single parent home is directly responsible for higher levels of criminality in children.

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