Home > Parenting, Single Parents, Tactics > Do Kids Need a Mom and a Dad? The University of Chicago biz school study

Do Kids Need a Mom and a Dad? The University of Chicago biz school study

January 12th, 2012

In a previous post, I discussed a Life-Style Leftist blogman’s outraged response to a perfectly reasonable statement about a very sound study, and analyzed the rhetorical strategy of accusing your opponent of saying  something he didn’t say. In this post, I want to talk about the substance of the study, what it shows and what it doesn’t.

It is always dangerous to speculate about people’s motives of course. I’ve never met Zach Ford, the blogman over at Think Progress, so I don’t know exactly what he is thinking. But I can say this: the logic of the marriage redefinition movement requires its advocates to deny that gender matters.

If gender is to become legally irrelevant to marriage, the logic of their position drives them to claim that gender is irrelevant to parenthood. The gender of parents doesn’t matter.  The gender of children doesn’t matter.  There is no difference between “mothers” and “fathers:” those are just empty, social constructs. There are only generic parents. In fact, everyone is a generic person. There are no sons and daughters either, only generic children.  So, the impact of an absent father on a girl should be exactly the same as an absent mother on a girl, or an absent father on a boy, or as an absent mother on a boy.

But now, take a look at the study that Mr. Ford claims that Mr. Stanton has mischaracterized.  The title of the study reveals that it is profoundly about gender, “The
Trouble with Boys: Social Influences and the Gender Gap in Disruptive Behavior.”
  Mr. Ford characterizes the paper thus: “If anything, the Booth study supports arguments in favor of marriage equality, because it found that it was neither family structure nor biology that were the direct cause of differences in boys’ behavior, but environmental factors determined by levels of parental input.” (his emphasis)

Let me take a sampling of quotations from this 62 page paper, and you can judge for yourselves whether this paper supports “marriage equality,” or the broad hypothesis that gender is relevant and that family structure matters.

    • We start by documenting the gender gap in non-cognitive skills among children, and how that gap evolves over the course of children’s development. What is immediately remarkable is the size of these gender gaps. (pg 5) (Note: “non-cognitive skills” include measure of things such as self-control, impulsivity, fighting, attentiveness, getting along with people, and many others. JRM)
    • Girls score better on each of the five  non-cognitive measures at all ages and these gaps appear to widen as kids age. … Girls outperform boys with respect to reading but lag behind in math; while the reverse-gender gap in reading is already present in kindergarten, the gender gap in math only emerges in first grade. What is remarkable is how large the gender gaps in non-cognitive skills are compared to the gender gaps in reading and math scores. (9)
    • While we find large differences in the gender-gap in non-cognitive skills across key features of the home environment, we do not observe systematic patterns across features of the kindergarten environment. (21)
    • While parents in both intact and broken families report more emotional distance with their sons as compared to their daughters, the gap is larger in broken families. (22)
    • Mothers in stable family structures (married  mothers and mothers living in a couple) do not appear to spend statistically less time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In contrast, single mothers spend between 1.2 and 1.4 hours less per week with their sons than with their daughters in the sample of kids under five (the mean weekly hours of total childcare by mothers in that sample is 17.8). This gender gap in investment is even more pronounced in the subsample of children under three…,with single mothers spending between 2.1 and 2.3 fewer hours of total childcare with their sons (the mean weekly hours of total childcare by mothers in that sample is 19.4). (24)
    • Our results are consistent with the view that a small but non-trivial share of boys’ higher rate of behavioral problems in single mother families might be due to differences in inputs by child gender. (25)
    • We continue to observe larger returns to higher levels of parental inputs and parental quality for boys compared to girls. (27)

To translate from academese into English: Gender matters. Boys are different from girls. Parents treat boys differently than girls. Boys and girls respond differently to parental inputs.

It is quite true that this study has nothing directly to do with same sex couples. Glen Stanton never said it did.  Mr. Ford tries to draw the conclusion that this study supports marriage equality, but this is even more groundless than saying it opposes marriage equality. He probably wants to say that the second parent in a same sex couple will provide kids with all the same benefits that the father provides in this study.

But this study certainly doesn’t prove any such thing. Unless Mr. Ford wants to claim that the  identity, the biology and the gender of the extra adult in the household are all completely irrelevant, he really should accept this study at its face value, as a general statement for the general population: kids benefit from having a mom and a dad in the home. Does Mr. Ford seriously deny the contention that kids benefit from having a mom and a dad in the home?

The advocates of redefining marriage to be a genderless institution have painted themselves into an intellectual corner. They have to deny that gender matters, for parenthood as well as for sex and marriage. I believe that gender does matter.

I also believe that repairing a marriage culture, attaching fathers to their children, encouraging fathers to invest in their children, encouraging mothers and fathers to collaborate with each other, and to love one another, are all necessary parts of any renewal of the lower classes. I bet Glenn Stanton thinks so too. This study is consistent with our position. Unfortunately, advocates for genderless marriage are throwing themselves in front of the train of evidence that a mom and a dad in an intact marriage will improve the school achievement and reduce behavior problems of children.

I invite the reader to go look at the study itself. You, dear reader, can decide for yourselves whether this study is fundamentally about same sex unions or about gender, whether it is more consistent with the general claim that kids need a mom and a dad, or with the general claim that gender is irrelevant.

The Ruth Institute promotes lifelong married love to college students and young adults by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage. You can sign up for our free newsletter here. We appreciate your support. We discuss the whole range of issues relating to marriage, as you can see from the list of “also by this author!”

Also by this author:

The Incoherence of Federal Sex Policy: Title X. Medicaid and the Eisenstadt Decision

Twin Reductions and the Right Side of History

Radio Interview with Lutheran Public Radio on Ron Paul’s idea to privatize marriage

Dr J Interviews Dr. Don Hilton, neurosurgeon, on Catholic Radio of San Diego on pornography addiction.


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