Are Single Mothers Messing Up Men? Scientifically Based Grounds for Skepticism

The insights of cutting-edge thinkers complicate the story told by an op-ed in the New York Times

Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave
Published in
9 min readSep 23, 2021

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Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

New York Times opinion columnist Thomas B. Edsall is worried that there may be a “whole class of men who no longer fit into the social order.” Some boys and men are having a hard time these days. Early in his essay, Edsall makes it clear that single mothers are going to get a lot of the blame:

“Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavioral deficit. Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly.”

About 1,600 words into his 2,500-word essay, Edsall warns us that men who are not highly educated are headed into a “vicious cycle” in which not being married gets implicated at every turn:

“With the onset of lower marriage rates of less-educated males, their children face comparatively low odds of living in economically secure households with two parents present. …male children born into low-income single-parent-headed households — which in the vast majority of cases are female-headed households — appear to fare particularly poorly on numerous social and educational outcomes.”

Edsall notes that some of his concerns about men, such as the “stagnation of male educational attainment,” may be particularly problematic for “minorities and those from low-income households.” He’s also worried about White men.

His particular interest is in differences between men and women. I’m not going to address that. I’m most unnerved by what he says and does not say about family structure. Readers with no other knowledge may not realize that the implications of being raised by a single parent are not as straightforward or as dire as Edsall’s discussion seems to suggest.

In the next section, I will present a sampling of studies complicating the story about children raised by single parents. I’ll show that in some ways, some of those children do better than the children of married parents. We now know a lot about what puts children at risk, and what’s happening within a family seems to matter a lot more than whether a kid is…

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Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com