Every so often I venture to and look around at the articles that are posted up on CNN.com just to look for the most inane piece that I can find. In this case it’s a non-news story entitled “Let us now praise single moms” written by one David G. Allen. Mr. Allen starts off by rattling off how he was raised by a single mother who bought weird health food, getting made fun of for “fake Nikes“, getting in fights with others kids about not having a dad, and of course being “demonstratively, the poorest kid in my school” (12 years of Catholic school, by the way). After a few paragraphs describing his own childhood Mr. Allen starts discussing research that looks at the socioeconomic status of single-parent families, decries the lack of federally mandated paid paternal leave and claims to cite studies that supposedly illustrate single parenthood has no long-term effect on children. The first research article that Mr. Allen misuses is entitled “Growing up with a single mother and life satisfaction in adulthood: A test of mediating and moderating factors” by David Richter and Sakari Lemola and is free for anyone to view (PDF here).
Mr. Allen claims that the study found “nearly no impact on general life satisfaction” and also quotes only a single part of the research article: “supporting the widely held notion from popular science that boys are more affected than girls by the absence of their fathers.” I did something that most people clicking on this clickbait article probably did not do and actually decided to read some of the study. Here’s the Abstract:
“Single parenthood is increasingly common in Western societies but only little is known
about its long-term effects. We therefore studied life satisfaction among 641 individuals
(ages 18±66 years) who spent their entire childhood with a single mother, 1539 individuals who spent part of their childhood with both parents but then experienced parental separation, and 21,943 individuals who grew up with both parents. Individuals who grew up with a single mother for their entire childhood and to a lesser degree also individuals who experienced parental separation showed a small but persistent decrease in life satisfaction into old age (emphasis mine) controlling childhood socio-economic status. This decrease was partly mediated by worse adulthood living conditions related to socio-economic and educational success, physical health, social integration, and romantic relationship outcomes. No moderation by age, gender, and societal system where the childhood was spent (i.e. western oriented FRG or socialist GDR) was found.”
It seems pretty apparent from the beginning that Mr. Allen misrepresents what the research article delves into but let’s through a little more of it. The study states that their are three main methods in which being raised by single mothers affects children in the long term: “less effective guardianship“, a “generally lower socioeconomic status“, and the “missing-father hypothesis. ” This study interestingly took data from families in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) to account for vastly differing variables. The study goes onto describe how the data was sampled, variables considered, and how to analyze “life satisfaction.” The paper described how parents being divorced for the child’s entire life, separated part of the time, and how parents who never separated affected the future happiness of the child.
Here are a few good quotes from page 10:
“However, the differences in general life satisfaction between respondents who lived with both parents for their first 15 years of life and either group of respondents reared by a single mother remained significant in all models, even when all adulthood life circumstances were controlled for.”
“This is the first study to show that growing up with a single mother is related to a stable
although modest reduction in general life satisfaction across the adult life-span until old age when adjusting for poor childhood SES”
From page 12:
“The reduction in adulthood life satisfaction was partially mediated by the individuals’ living conditions, including their lower socio-economic status and educational level, lower physical health status, and poor social integration and romantic success in adulthood.”
It seems that economic factors partially account for lower happiness, but I don’t really think that it adds to the argument that being a single parent is a better option.
The last tidbit that I’ll take from the study is on page 13:
“In conclusion, the present study shows that growing up with a single mother in particular if the father is absent for the entire childhood predicts a small but stable decrease in life satisfaction across adulthood that is partly explained by lower socio-economic status and educational achievement, inferior physical health, poor social integration, and lower likelihood of romantic relationship success in adulthood. Contrary to expectations this effect was not moderated by sex, age, or the societal system in which the childhood was spent.”
I wonder if Mr. Allen is intentionally lying and misrepresenting the report or if he didn’t read past the first few pages? The author at CNN goes on to cite another “study“, but this one isn’t really a study. From page 3 of 4 of this very colorful paper:
“Given the diversity of families within these groups, further analysis is needed before we can suggest that living in a single parent household has a positive impact on a child’s wellbeing.”
OK then, so it’s not a study but rather just a regurgitation of a dataset with no analysis. It has lots of graphs though…
Our low-testosterone author goes on to state how being raised by a single mother made him the adult that he is today though. Mr. Allen received an “Emersonian amount of self-reliance”, figured out how to apply to a college, and some other stuff that lots of people figure out how to do on their own as well. I suppose that I’m not as “class-conscious” as our male feminist author. I don’t think that I’m going to take Mr. Allen’s lead and praise all single mothers; he makes them all sound like their heroes who never, ever do anything wrong to their children (or their ex). If you want to get one last laugh out of this guy, be sure to read his article on “Why Jeanette Rankin should be on the $10 bill.” Just for reference, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war against Japan in 1941.