There are very clear numbers associating fatherlessness with increased crime and other pathologies, such as dropping out of school or early sexual experience.

Yet crime and dropping out have decreased in the society at large, even as fatherlessness in society has risen dramatically. Having a father who leaves or was never there seems to clearly be a bad indicator for an individual child. (Note: this is an association and could be genetic or environmental.) Yet the overall trend, even in fairly dramatic form, has not been able to override long-term improvement on those measures.  I wonder what is happening? I should look at the timetables for all of these and see if anything jumps out at me.  But first, I wondered whether any of you had already seen something on the matter.

15 thoughts on “Fatherlessness”

  1. There is pretty good evidence that adult behavior is mostly genetic, at least 50%.

    Childhood behavior is more subject to parenting or lack of.

    One problem in untangling this is that the genetics of people who produce fatherless children is also not good.

    Charles Murray got into a lot of trouble (unmerited) writing about the underclass and children perpetuating underclass but he was also concerned about assortive mating” by parents at elite colleges.

  2. I don’t have access to many of my links due tyo a “smoked” computer and a lack of independent backup, but I recall a discussion, probably from something over at Unz, possibly from something Steve Sailor wrote, which discussed children with missing fathers. Abandoned children had poorer outcomes than did children whose fathers were lost during war time. The suggestion was that the genetic contribution of the father was more important to the child’s ultimate outcome than was the actual presence of that father during that child’s formative years. The children of unfortunate soldiers did well, the children of those who deserted their families did less well.

    The concept of the importance of the genetic contribution relates to local politics since the local prosecutor has refused to prosecute or otherwise coerce fathers who had abandoned their families. “Chaining” the father to the family (i.e.: be there, pay up, or get jail time) might make life easier for the mother but might not accomplish much, if anything, toward improving the eventual outcome for the children since the genetic contribution of the children was already determined. Some friends and collegues were outraged at this attitude since they subscribe to the notion that the better child care, nutrition, sense of security, etc in a complete(d) family must, in their view, lead to an improvement in the outcome for the affected children. The consideration of the importance of the child’s genetic makeup brings in charges of racism and a dispair about the improvement of the human condition. We can both support “enforced” child support although my expectations are much more modest than theirs.

    To split the hairs a bit, mention was made, over at Slate Star Codex, of preliminary studies suggesting that some “Pre-K” programs and “good” elementary school teachers do not improve academic achievement beyond that expected from the source population, but those experiences do produce better “social” outcomes for those children. An actual link to that discussion is not available from me.

    What is absolutely clear is that discussions of the relative contribution of genetics and environment in areas of academics and social success are not topics suitable for dinner discussion among friends. I suggest that conversations at such times would more appropriately be limited to the topics of religion, sex, and national political issues such as man-made climate change in order to preserve a more friendly atmosphere. {/s}

  3. Mike-SMO

    Just wanted to note that in addition to the genetic factor, people will view a child fatherless due to death, especially in military service, differently than one whose father simply left (or was kicked out by the mother). Even with changing attitudes towards divorce and single motherhood people will still draw a distinction.

  4. Oh, do let’s be honest with ourselves: The important thing in these discussions isn’t the actual presence of the father, but the genetic factors that would have gone into that father sticking around to help raise the kids. Of course the kids from fathers that would have stuck around are going to do better; they’re already primed to do well on those “positive measures” you’re looking at, and the behavioral genes are likely lurking there in the background.

    Which is not to say that the actual presence of a father isn’t important, but that you’re mistaking correlation for causation.

    Call them “Cuckoo-genes” if you like, but the sort of male that loves ’em and leaves ’em represents a certain mating strategy, one that I think you’ll find is correlated heavily with a lot of things our society considers fairly irresponsible and anti-social–Like criminal behavior.

    It’s mostly down to the women, though–They like these characteristics, and select for them. If women really were attracted to buttoned-down father types, then the “Bad Boy” trope would be an irrelevant aberration. Unfortunately, all too many women like that sort of thing, so here we are. The inner-city dysfunction typified by that rapper who just killed his mother for her money isn’t down to failure by the men, it’s a failure of the women to properly identify and then actualize self-interested breeding choices in the mates they select. Although, I suppose that helping the self-interested “Bad Boy” types reproduce would represent an alternative gene-propagation strategy that might serve to offset all the other detractors.

    You step back from the purely human considerations, and look at the question as being one of a competition between gene complex reproduction strategies, and you start to see the outlines of what the actual problems are. And, most of those come down to the gatekeepers in these situations making really bad choices for themselves, and society–While doing exactly what those “Cuckoo-genes” consider optimal.

  5. “Oh, do let’s be honest with ourselves”? OK. Let’s do. What does the actual elephant in the room look like? I suspect folks tiptoe around because Mike-SNO’s {snark}observation (which I greatly enjoyed) depends on wrestling with whether race makes a difference.

    I take the position that it does not make the determining difference. To paraphrase an elephant (Horton), a people is a people. Put another way, one cannot easily corral ceteris paribus.

    Suppose one grants Mike K’s “at least 50%” genetics, say 51%. After all, genetics says I’m too short to have qualified for a basketball team, at least not beyond jr hi level. Similarly, maybe that hi school classmate who starred at basketball could not have taken the college or even the hi school classes I did much less earned the grades I did. Not even if he had access to a tutor and put in plenty of sweat equity. Yet his and my success in life does not cease hinging on the 49% as well as the 51%. Which of us, for example, have not met someone with an obvious ability we ourselves could not duplicate, but which that person somehow did not develop?

    Meanwhile, discounting the shaping influences of the culture one grows up in also violates both intuition and experience. Reflect for a moment on a if not the central message of the “Hidden Figures” movie. (It’s worth seeing. I loved the recondite moment when the woman heroine observed that a Taylor Expansion would allow numerical approximation of the sought after solution for an orbital differential equation.) Certainly the movie trumpeted an agenda driven message: black women made good in a competitive technical field. But hidden in plain sight in “Hidden” another message also stood out: the sort of influence/result a commitment to a stable marriage/family had on both the women involved and their children.

  6. something Steve Sailor wrote, which discussed children with missing fathers. Abandoned children had poorer outcomes than did children whose fathers were lost during war time.

    I grew up with a bunch of kids, mostly boys for some reason, who had lost fathers in the war. That was my age group. My father was older and had been in WWI, although only briefly. It was no big deal because the epidemic of divorce and out-of-wedlock births was still to come.

    I’ve been reading a series of books (novels) about the Industrial Revolution in England. One small social aspect was that well off men often supported their illegitimate children and their mothers as “war widows.”

    With the post “Great Society” social collapse, some men in urban ghettoes are fathering multiple children with no intention , or ability, to support them. The genetics and the parenting are equally bad.

  7. Roy Kerns – the other 49% isn’t environment, it seems to be randomness. Whether it “violates intuition and experience” is is irrelevant, unless there is some data behind it. And there is very little to support any environmental influence beyond not getting hit on the head, or eating lead, or severe abuse or malnutrition. We’ve covered this a few times here and I know it is unpopular with both left and right. I started as a very big “it’s mostly environment” believer, having graduated from college in 1975, when no genetic answers were allowed if you wanted to be considered intellectual. I was a fanatic father, reading to my children at enormous length, making every dinnertime an intellectual conversation, spending thousands of dollars on private schools, attending every school event and volunteering. I have adopted three boys in addition to my biological two, and think my actions may have done some rescuing of them, I have paid enormous dues to that club, but I have become convinced it is mistaken.

    It gets worse. A lot of the other factors, such as determination and resilience, are turning out to be genetic as well. Incentives still work, so structuring the environment people perform in may still be key, even though the gains disappear when the incentives are removed.

    It’s ugly, and I don’t want it to be true. Yet it seems to be. The new favorite, epigenetics, is turning out to be true only in strange and unpredictable ways. We’ll see what happens there.

  8. It seems as if the current minority situation has been “Loaded” by the selection process that created the minority founder population in the Western Hemisphere.


    This profound “apology” for the contribution of the author’s family to the Atlantic Slave Trade, notes that the trade included two sub-populations. One group was composed of “kidnap” victims, collected by West African tribal raiders. The other group was composed of the unlucky, lazy, dim, and/or criminal, who had lost their freedom due to circumstances. That second group was further culled by their inability to be useful or cooperative with the families who had charge of them. The author describes a man “who had lost his freedom” (was a slave) and who proved to be a life-long friend to the slave-trading ancestor. Those who lost their freedom and who continued to be lazy, dim and/or criminal ended up being sold to either the Islamic traders (and dead within 2-3 years) or traded to the Europeans for steel goods (and later, firearms), fabrics or rum. I can’t think of a way to estimate the relative size of these two theoretical sub-populations, but it seems clear that the resulting combined population that experienced the Atlantic Crossing was “enriched” in the troubled double culls. From that, it is not surprising that the descendents of that population would have a relatively high degree of “social problems”. Indeed. several years ago, the Cornell University BSU noted that Afro-American students had more problems and needed more help from the University than did the modern African immigrants who did not experience the history of chattel slavery in the New World. The Cornell Afro-American students did not consider what aspect of the slavery system/process was responsible for the problems that they experienced.

    I have not had the nerve nor have I consumed enough Tequilla to consider bringing this topic to a dinner conversation with long-time friends. I am surprised that the editors of the New Yorker allowed this “apology” to be published in its current form. There are clearly distinctly different sub-populations involved in the historical Atlantic Slave Trade just waiting for someone with a low enough “agreeableness” score to point it out.

  9. several years ago, the Cornell University BSU noted that Afro-American students had more problems and needed more help from the University than did the modern African immigrants who did not experience the history of chattel slavery in the New World.

    I have repeatedly observed this in medical students, a selected group. I have taught African, West Indian and American black students. The American students, in my experience, have far more problems. West Indian blacks seem to have the same good attitude as African blacks. In spite of their history of slavery, they do not share the victim mentality of American blacks. It may be the history of Jim Crow, that poisons American blacks but they are also subjected to the “poverty pimps”
    like Jackson and Sharpton who seem to have had immense influence for evil.

    One of my black students, who had grown up in Oakland CA , was so weird that I feared he might be schizophrenic. Several patients had ordered him out of their rooms. I talked to him and learned that his parents were both Black Panther radicals. He had never spoken to a white person. I finally had to give him a script to use in taking a medical history from white adults. With that to get him started, he eventually progressed satisfactorily. He had no trouble getting along with the other medical students, white and black.

  10. Going back to the original question, my completely non-expert impression is:
    – the collapse of the family has spread in recent decades to small-town/rural America, where crime is just generally less than cities due to low-density, etc. So the rise in fatherless there won’t necessarily cause increased crime stats the way it did in cities.
    – the nation’s largest city is much safer now due to aggressive policing tactics (that are now being withdrawn). Crime dropping in NY will far outweigh crime rising in other areas. (my understanding is that the US would actually drop below most European countries in crime stats if you just excluded like the 3 most violent cities.)

  11. Genetic impact of selection in Africa? Impact of slavery?

    Look at the freedmen who were smiths, and other skilled trades.

    Just like Jim Crow is a better explanation for Southern poverty than Reconstruction, Johnson’s Great Society is a better explanation for modern black cultural dysfunction than the Antebellum South.

    The case that Johnson is more important than Jim Crow for that is weaker. Jim Crow made claims that were in hindsight fairly obvious lies.

    So it is reasonably difficult to persuade people who know that of the possibility that similar claims are not lies, even if they are true statements.

    The solution to relative black poverty might well be gun ownership, and self defensive killing of all the criminal junkies. (Thieving junkies are effectively a tax on the relatively poor.) That claim is relatively easy to understand as being similar to Jim Crow era claims about the criminal tendencies of blacks.

    Am I a nasty person because of some event involving my great-great-grandfather? Or is it pretty clear that much more recent influences are involved?

    And be very careful when talking about genetic factors over hundreds of years. Every generation doubles the potential number of ancestors, or more statistically, is another trial of selecting one combination of genetics from an available two. If you want to argue impact of good and bad traits over a long period of time, you ought to first have a solid statistical model of how many generations before a recent generation’s genetics and a more historical generation’s genetics have a much weaker correlation. (I understand these ancestry tests are using modern populations as a proxy for more ancient ones. It would be interesting to test those against a model built from samples with random bogus labels, Lemuria, Mu, Atlantis, etc.)

    If the mother’s father and mother are active in her upbringing, less likely to decide to become a single mother at a young age. If the father’s mother and father are active in his upbringing, less likely to choose to be a cad. So, young single mother raising fatherless sons is also likely to lack grandfatherly involvement.

    From my experience, it is partly ‘older male relative in my life, interested in my outcomes’. The thing about an older male relative is that they survived, and that might partly be good decision making on their part. Anecdotes about good and bad decision types, stuff that is too dangerous to mess with, what things are really important in life. A young man is naturally ignorant, innocent of the dangers of some very stupid choices, and has a drive to risk taking behavior that a mother or grandmothers will not always have the best strategies for.

    Drug use is a particularly stupid modern option, and will leave you screwed up even with otherwise great genetics. If you don’t have adults in your life at least opposed enough to your using it that they will beat you for trying, you are much more vulnerable. Rich people have the wealth to shield their kids from the consequences of use, at least for a while. (See affluenza boy.)

    a) Don’t take the crime statistics too religiously. Look at all the lawyers, even nominally conservative ones, who are idiots, oppose capital punishment, and promote ‘criminal justice reform’. There is some level of measurement error from that, which might not be included in the error calculated for the crime stats you are comparing. b) Dropping out statistics are only apples to apples if the rigor and opportunity costs are the same. You might be able to get a bachelor’s degree now in nonsense while being a dysfunctional junkie that previously would not be able to pass highschool. The employment barriers to entry seem much higher these days for young people than previously.

  12. Going slightly off topic — someone recently recommended the book “Black Cargoes” by Daniel P. Mannix, Viking Press (1962). Thank you!

    I found an old copy and have been reading it with interest. One surprise is that English captains’ treatment of their English crews on the English slave ships which for so long dominated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was even worse than their treatment of the African slaves — regular floggings and starvation diets, followed often by abandonment at Caribbean ports. The death rate among English sailors was higher than among the transported slaves. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments of the Abolitionists against the slave trade was to save the lives of English sailors. Further, the death rate among Irish emigrants transported to the New World (often as near-slave indentured servants) could be as high as on the slave ships.

    Those were hard times for everyone! The implication is that if we want to find explanations for under-performance today, we need to look for something closer to the present than a distant echo of the hardships endured by almost all our ancestors prior to the advances which followed the adoption of fossil fuels.

  13. @ Gavin – or look hundreds of years back instead of just a few. It’s not the current topic, but the African-American population that came to the Middle Atlantic states came largely from the Bight of Benin, which includes the highest IQ tribes in Africa, including the Igbo of Nigeria.

    @ BobtheRegisteredFool – the violent crime rate among African Americans is nearly ten times that of Caucasians, Asians, Jews. Whatever else it is, it’s not a counting error. Blacks do get worse lawyers and worse treatment by prosecutors and many judges. Treatment by the police is nowhwere near as much worse as is advertised, however. The key number to shake things clear is the homicide rate. You need a body to make that happen, and they count those fairly carefully everywhere. It cannot be a result of police over-accusing or differently perceiving AA actions. It’s a body. It’s dead. (Falsely accusing by detectives is still high, though. We convict the wrong black man too often. See lawyers and prosecutors, above.)

    At my own site a commenter noted how difficult the “fatherless” counting is in all these statistics, because some could be called fatherless by the government – or researchers – yet still have very involved fathers. Joint custody, living together, and pretended separation for the purpose of welfare benefits all complicate the statistics. I think that is going to prevent me from figuring an answer to my question.

  14. Kirk, I think the bad boy selection was a critical mating choice for most of history, they needed someone strong and willing to use violence to protect her and the children. 90 pound weaklings were obviously a liability even if they were nice guys who would never hit a lady.

  15. AIV: The violent death rate of blacks is almost certainly actually disparate.

    But, if one’s working theory is white conspiracy, why couldn’t a white or Jewish conspiracy be framing innocent blacks for murders actually committed by a secret white supremacist plurality?

    Okay, dispassionate examination of a number of these murders might reveal that the ‘committed by criminal blacks’ theory is actually plausible.

    Being persuaded by statistical data requires either numeracy, or trusting a numerate person.

    Lots of people, generally, make significant decisions on tribal instinct.

    Best counter argument to the case I’ve made in this comment is that Shaun King shows that the Democrats have or had a shortage of vicious dishonest blacks. From that we can infer a bunch of respectable sane blacks that media is doing their best to hide. So, what I should be doing is forgetting what the media has presented to me, and focusing instead on the people I actually know.

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