Studies show that boys raised by single moms fare worse. Here’s what you can do …


Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an important article Poor boys are falling behind poor girls, and it’s deeply troubling, which dives into studies that find that the education gender gap — in which girls kick boys’ butts — is especially acute in poor communities.

Researchers’ conclude that boys need more parenting, and in poor communities,  fathers are more likely to be absent.

In other words: Boys raised by single moms fare worse in school and life.

From the article:

A 2015 study from economists Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan showed that boys are particularly at risk when they grow up in single-mother households. When boys don’t get enough parental attention, they misbehave. Girls, in contrast, are less likely to misbehave regardless of how much time parents spend with them.

That is a bitter reality to swallow for even not-poor single moms, or moms whose kids do know and often see their dads, like in my own divorced family. My son and daughter, ages 5 and 7, live primarily with me, but see their father two or three times per week — sometimes more when school and sport activities call for his presence. I still worry about my son — what affect it will have on him long-term to be raised by a single mom — especially one who has such a strong personality, and until-now no long-term romantic partner.

I haven’t found any hard data on absentee dads — not just dads who don’t live in the same household as their kids, but guys who are mostly or entirely MIA from their children’s’ lives. This crappy article by the Washington Times, Fathers disappear from households across America, presumes that men who do not live with their babymomas are not involved in their kids lives, which we know is not true.

Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and 32 percent of Hispanic dads. [Aside: note how these stats defy stereotypes, as black dads who are not married to their kids’ moms are actually more involved than white dads. More on that later.]. Those numbers are woefully low, and there is little sign of improvement. Anecdotally, I was shocked to realize how common it is for dads to be more or less checked out, based on the viral reaction to this post I wrote earlier this year: The real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids, as well as experiences shared by readers here on this blog.

Long story short: Dads are not involved as much as they should be, and that hurts boys in particular.

What can single moms do about it?

If boys crave more adult attention and guidance, we must give it to them. That does not all have to come from you, the mother. Give the bird to all that societal pressure to do it all, all by yourself. Do not be shy about asking your friends, or neighbor, or siblings, or cousin to be more involved. Just ask them: “You know Tyler’s dad is not around. He really needs more adults in his life. Can you take him out for dinner once a month?”

If you don’t have great family support, create your own family. Create your own network of other single moms, or get involved in your church, or host a weekly Sunday night potluck dinner in your apartment building. There are other families who are eager to love yours, who may also feel a deep lack of community and connectedness, and are too shy or unorganized or ashamed to initiate get-togethers and new friendships.

The bottom line is that while you may have little control over whether your kids’ dad shows up, you do have control over who is in your kids’ lives.

Remember: You need support and community, too. It’s not all about the kids.


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Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

4 thoughts on “Studies show that boys raised by single moms fare worse. Here’s what you can do …

  1. My son’s father took a little over two year hiatus from his daddy duties when we split up (we have since gotten back together). And I can tell you from experience that it definitely had a marked difference on our son. He is a strong willed child by nature, and I did my best (…at least I thought I was doing a good job) but his behavior at school left a lot to be desired. Since his dad has been back, his behavior problems have dropped dramatically. I notice it most when he wants his dad around to watch him play sports, to wrestle with, to run around outside… you know, “guy things.” These outlets help him to control himself better at school and in structured situations. He also seems to be calmer all around – since he doesn’t have to be the “protector” anymore and can just focus on being a kid. — Just my experience. Great article!

    1. “He also seems to be calmer all around – since he doesn’t have to be the “protector” anymore and can just focus on being a kid.”

      That is really interesting — wonder: do you think anything you do/say encourages him to ‘be the man of the house’?

  2. So are you saying because my children’s father was killed in the line of duty that my son is automatically going to be screwed up because now there isn’t a man in his life? I’m definitely not following this site anymore.

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