John Leo

        · In a large sample of students in 315 classrooms in 11 cities, the "single most important variable" in gang involvement was found to be family structure. In other words, the greater the number of parents at home, the lower the level of gang involvement. A study of American Indian families found that living in a two-parent family reduced gang involvement by more than 50 percent.

        ·Another study concluded that out-of-wedlock childbearing had a large effect on the rate of arrests for murder, an effect that "seems to have gotten stronger over time."

        · "Adolescents in married, two-biological-parent families generally fare better than children in any of the family types examined here," one study reported. The other family types studied were single mother, cohabiting stepfather, and married stepfather families.

        · One study, judged most important by the institute, found that divorce rates had no relationship to violent crime rates but that out-of-wedlock births had a strong relationship to youth crime--nearly 90 percent of the increase in violent crime between 1973 and 1995 was accounted for by the rise in out-of-wedlock births.

        The upshot of these studies is that America is confronted by a form of poverty that money alone can't cure. Many of us think social breakdown is a result of racism and poverty. Yes, they are factors, but study after study shows that alterations in norms and values are at the heart of economic and behavioral troubles. That's why so much research boils down to the old rule: If you want to avoid poverty, finish high school, don't have kids in your teens, and get married.

        But the conventional wisdom is determined to ignore the evidence. It holds that family fragmentation--sorry, diverse family forms--is positive and here to stay. Peggy Drexler, the author of a new book, Raising Boys Without Men, says people who promote intact families are playing a "blame game" against single mothers. She thinks eating dinner regularly with your children is more important than the number or gender of adults in the home. And boys, according to Drexler, have an innate ability to become men, even without a man in the house. (But if boys can raise themselves, why should any father stick around?) The book carries blurbs from various establishment figures. Why not? Her ideas are ordinary ones among our elites.

John Leo

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

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