In Abington, two teenagers carjacked an 82-year-old man at the Willow Grove mall. A fight near Upper Darby High School left a teen stabbed. A 16-year-old Bensalem boy allegedly shot a girl and asked for help disposing of her body over Instagram.
People shake their heads and ask, where are the parents? But the better question might be: Where are the fathers?
Rafael Mangual, head of research, policing, and public safety for The Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank, told DVJournal data reveals that having a father in their early childhood is key for boys to grow up to be productive, law-abiding people.
But the number of single-parent households, with the mother usually at the helm, keeps growing.
Mangual said, “There is a very clear association between the incidents of out-of-wedlock childbirth and delinquency and criminality in males.”
Two-parent households are “an institution whose primary path is raising and socializing children. Early childhood development is critically important.”
“One of the things the literature tells us is that when you have young boys around the ages of 5 to 7 who have developed conduct disorders, that becomes relatively predictive of future criminality in adolescents.”
But he cautioned, “The majority of those kids will turn out just fine. Those conduct disorders will get resolved either through psychological intervention or the passage of time.”
However, a. good portion of boys will develop conduct disorders that metastasize to anti-social dispositions, he said.
“One of the things we see in prison settings is a much higher rate of psychological conditions like substance abuse disorders or anti-social personality disorder” in men raised by single mothers, said Mangual.
Mangual noted that in the general population of men in the U.S., anti-social personality disorder affects between 2 and 4 percent. Depending on the facility, it is between 40 to 70 percent of men in prisons, a “massive disparity.”
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission suggests being raised by a single parent predicts juvenile crime. In 2021, more than 80 percent of every youth in juvenile court lived in a single-parent household.
Of those, about 48 percent lived with a single mother. And 15.5 percent lived with both their parents.
Michael Chitwood, retired Upper Darby police superintendent and former Philadelphia detective, said he had observed the phenomenon during his years in law enforcement.
“Without a father figure or male figure in their lives, they don’t listen,” Chitwood said. “Fathers hold them accountable.” He saw “over and over” when investigating homicides or other serious crimes, “more often than not, it was one-parent families for those who committed serious crimes.”
“It’s a sad trend,” Chitwood said.
Mangual said, “It doesn’t just come out of the blue. It often starts in early childhood. That suggests a high incidence of out-of-wedlock birth, and high rates of single-parent homes in which fathers are absent means that you are increasing the likelihood of the socialization process breaking down in early childhood.”
In Pennsylvania, 35 percent of children are raised in single-parent households, and in the U.S., single-parent family numbers have been rising since the 1950s and now stand at 34 percent.
The towns with the most single-parent families headed by women in the Delaware Valley are Bensalem in Bucks County, Pottstown in Chester County, Norristown in Montgomery County, and Upper Darby in Delaware County, according to the estimated U.S. Census five-year report.
Asked whether having other male role models like uncles or clergy can mitigate the lack of a father in a boy’s life, Mangual said, “There is some research that supports that. Neighborhoods with higher rates of potential role models have lower rates of crime. The problem is the difference between an uncle, or a pastor, or a teacher, and a father is, the father is in an ideal situation. He is going to be there all the time and will be there for those really important moments.”
Asked about how fatherless girls fare, Mangual said they are more likely to engage in self-harm, like eating disorders or other psychological disorders, rather than turn to crime and violence.
Mangual said anti-social personality disorder “is a lack of remorse, a lack of regard for future consequences, a lack of regard for other people, a very high sense of entitlement (in the clinical sense).”
What can be done to reverse the single-parent trend?
Mangual said it is more complicated than just encouraging couples to stay together. While, generally, two parents are better than one, “If one or both of those parents can be characterized by a history of anti-social behavior, then that can actually negate the benefits of two parents. Kids who have one parent might be better off if one of those two parents is anti-social in their disposition.”
And Mangual said he believes this “cultural and social” problem needs to be solved by society, not the government.
Although, “to the extent that welfare policy penalizes marriage or cohabitation between parents, there’s some cases where a family might lose benefits if a mother and father get married. That’s certainly something the government can look to change.”
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