Do Boys Need Dads? An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy
Do boys need Dads? Decades of sociological research support the common sense answer, "Yes!" But as the push for "same sex marriage" gains ground around the world and within the United States, the belief that both a Mom and a Dad are whats best for children is becoming a politically incorrect notion in some circles.
A recent book, Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men by Peggy Drexler, has been widely praised book for making the case for raising boys without fathers. It has been received favorably in a wide range of magazines, from Harpers Bazaar, which labeled it a "Hot Summer Read" to a favorable interview in Parents magazine.
Drexler is also using her book to make the case for gay marriage, as a review in Gay Parent magazine summarized one point: "Sons of lesbians tend to be more empathetic to others as well as aware of the good and bad feelings within themselves." In a recent opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle and in her book, Drexler claims her research provides strong arguments in favor of both same sex marriage and same sex parenting.
However, the Catholic Church (not to mention a host of other Christians, non-Christian religions, and many non-religious groups) strongly disagrees. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring " (CCC, par. 1601). It adds that the "vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator" (par. 1603) and that "Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: It is not good that the man should be alone" (par. 1605).
Aside from the obvious moral problems with Drexlers thesis, her research and conclusions are questionable. IgnatiusInsight.com interviewed Maggie Gallagher, noted marriage and family expert and President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, about her newly released research, and about her criticism of Drexler's book. Gallagher talks about her survey (PDF file) of 23 recent studies on just one indicator, (fathers and crime) as well as her knowledge of several decades of research on whether and how family structure matters.
Gallagher is the co-author (with University of Chicago professor Linda J. Waite) of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better-off Financially. She said that children do better growing up in a home with a married mother and father, as a wide variety of indicators demonstrate: avoiding poverty, delinquency, drug abuse, mental illness, teen suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, unwed teen motherhood, dropping out of high school, or other signs of school failure.
IgnatiusInsight.com: First of all, does family structure matter to children? And are boys going to be fineperhaps better off evenwithout dads, as Peggy Drexler contends? As you know, Drexler interviewed 124 parents of boys, most of who were single mothers or lesbian couples. She concluded, "Parenting is about the human heart, which has no gender" and that "Socioeconomic status is a stronger predictor of child welfare than almost any other index."
Maggie Gallagher: Peggy Drexler concludes essentially that poverty matters, but fathers dont. Boys, she says, are hard-wired to grow into men, and those raised by "maverick moms" may be even better off than boys who have fathers. People, she says, are confusing marital status with money. The reason children in single-parent families do worse, on a number of measures is only because single mothers are more likely to be poor.
First of all, this is really ill informed. Shes a Gender Studies scholar and she may be very expert in that field, but she really doesnt seem to be aware of the larger social science literature on family structure and the large debate that has taken place over whether and how marriage matters to child well-being.
And, putting aside for a moment the question of children of same sex couples (of which there is relatively little evidence), a very large amount of research shows that even after controlling for income children do best when they are raised by their own mother and father in an intact marriage, provided that is not high conflict or violent.
And by the way, its kind of silly to say poverty matters but not marriage, because the retreat from marriage is one of the biggest reasons for child poverty in America today.
So yes, one of the reasons that marriage matters is that children are poorer and their standard of living goes down when mothers and fathers arent working together raising their children. But it is not the only reason.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What if the mother and father are fighting all the time, what about that?
Maggie Gallagher: What does the social science literature say about parental conflict? It hurts kids. No doubt about it. One or both of you can conduct your marriage so badly that your kids would be better off if you separate or divorce. The very best thing you can do is figure out how to stop all that senseless fighting that is hurting your kids and build a more cooperative relationship so you can give your children the best thing and not the second or third best thing. (For resources on how to do this, go to SmartMarriages.com)
IgnatiusInsight.com: Peggy Drexler is promoting same sex, particularly lesbian, relationships raising boys. She says: "Boys raised by women show an innate and astonishing ability to establish a strong and resilient sense of their own masculinity. Good mothers can and do foster this awareness. Their boys exhibit what I call boy power: the pairing of healthy aggression with empathy in a way that sons in mom-and-dad families don't often manage." What is your take on that?
Maggie Gallagher: She apparently believes boys are better off without fathers who might impair their moral development.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do we know about children raised by same sex couples?
Maggie Gallagher: In my opinion, judging by the standards of kinds of evidence that are used in the larger family structure debate, we know almost nothing about how the children fare. Theres been about 35 to 50 studies, but theres not a single study based on nationally representative data that follows children from birth raised by same sex couples and can tell us how they do in adulthood.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do we know about the other family structures that have been very well studied? What do we know about the advantages of a traditional two-parent family?
Maggie Gallagher: Weve had a lot of research on not just one parent vs. two parents, but co-habitating couples, remarried couples, as well as solo mother and to a lesser extent solo father families.
And what we know is that children who are raised outside of intact marriages are at risk for a large number of social, emotional, and other kinds of problems. Take for example what our research is about: the recent research on family structure and crime and delinquency.
Do married parents reduce crime? The answer seems
to be pretty clearly, "Yes."
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