Los Angeles Times 8/14/97

by Lynn Smith

What divorcing couple hasn't heard horror stories about what the split might do to their children? Especially if Mom is left to raise the kids alone. A father's absence in the home, according to almost every fathers' group, could well spell doom for little boys, little girls and the future of the nation.

Not necessarily, according to a new study from the universities of Southern California and Washington.

Stable, two-parent families still appear to do the best job of raising kids. But when income and job status are taken into account, children raised by single mothers are nearly as likely to succeed in adulthood, and, interestingly enough, they are even more likely to succeed than children raised in homes headed by a stepfather or a single father.

"Kids from male-headed households, single dads, do worse socioeconomically than kids from mother-headed homes and also two-parent families," said USC sociologist Timothy Biblarz, the study's lead author.

The study analyzed a survey of 22,761 men ranging in age from 25 to 64. They had been asked to report the occupation of the head of the household in which they grew up and to list their own occupations. All occupations were ranked on a 100-point scale, with 100 requiring the most education and returning the most income.

Men from traditional families averaged 42 on the scale, while men in mother-headed households averaged 40, no matter whether the mothers had been divorced, widowed or never married. Children from other types of non-traditional homes ranked 35.

Previous studies presumed that children did poorly in single-mother homes because the structure itself was "pathological." Even researchers skeptical about the effects of family structure on children's development have pushed for policies to bring a man into a divorced home because of his paycheck.

"They assume if there's a divorce, you've got to have policies to encourage remarriage to get a man back into the household because of added income," Biblarz said. "Our findings challenge that to some extent."

Most negative effects were due to the greater likelihood that single mothers would be unemployed, Biblarz said. "When you compare two-parent households where fathers were managerial/professional with kids whose single mothers were managerial/professional, there's not a lot of difference between the two socioeconomic outcomes as they get into adulthood."

The researchers suspected a step-parent's income may be offset by other issues, such as a greater emotional distance and more conflict. "Bringing a man into the home doesn't mean kids will get a high level of investment from that setpparent," Biblarz said.

The analysis suggests that, "if you want your kid to maintain the same status or class you're in, having Mom around and plugged into the family is more important than Dad," said Jeffrey Evans of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

[liznote: we really don't need studies to tell us what children need. They need their primary caregivers, usually their mothers -- in the most comfortable, unstressed, and educationally stimulating environment possible. That's what yields the best results in the intact biological homes, and that what has been shown by this study.  We already know that.  We already know who, in the overwhelming most of households, regardless of their make-up, is actually raising the children, spending the most time with them in all the little myriad mundane ways when smarts are acquired and values are learned. We already know that it's far likelier that children brought up in an environment where the parent or parents are better educated and hold professional positions are going to themselves be those who achieve educational and socioeconomic success in life. We already know that what parents themselves have is what they are going to impart to their children, whether it is education, native intellect, a value system or just plain joy and serenity in life -- and that the misery created by divorce and exacerbated by our current policies which strip this from mothers are going to make the problems worse. Enough already with the political nonsense which is game-playing with children's lives.]


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