John Leo

It took the media a while to acknowledge that most of Katrina's victims were black. Apparently, it will take longer to mention that most of the victims were women and children. I noticed three commentators who brought up the delicate subject of the mostly missing males--George Will, Gary Bauer, and Thomas Bray, a columnist for the Detroit News. Will noted that 76 percent of births to Louisiana's African-Americans are to unmarried women, and probably more than 80 percent in New Orleans, since that is the usual estimate in other inner cities. Will wrote: "That translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos, in neighborhoods and schools, come rain or come shine."

        A good deal of hard evidence shows that this is so. Two decades of research produced a consensus among social scientists of both left and right that family structure has a serious impact on children, even when controlling for income, race, and other variables. In other words, we are not talking about a problem of race but about a problem of family formation or, rather, the lack of it. The best outcomes for children--whether in academic performance, avoidance of crime and drugs, or financial and economic success--are almost invariably produced by married biological parents. The worst results are by never-married women.

        High crime. In a policy brief released last week, the Washington-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy,, looked at 23 recent studies dealing with family structure and youth crime. In 19 of the 20 studies that found family structure to have an effect, children from nonintact or single-parent families had a higher rate of crime or delinquency. Neighborhoods with lots of out-of-wedlock births have lots of crime. Ominously, one study said that the more single-parent families there were in a neighborhood, the more crime there was among two-parent kids living around them. Again, these studies are controlled for race.

        Among the other findings:
        ·Adolescents in single-parent families were almost twice as likely to have pulled a knife or a gun on someone in the past year. This was after controlling for many demographic variables, including race, gender, age, household income, and educational level of parents.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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