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August 14th 2011 print

Bill Muehlenberg

Fatherlessness, violence and the British malaise

The London riots simply confirm what the social scientists have been telling us for decades now: children need fathers, not the welfare state.


The London riots have simply reconfirmed and graphically illustrated what the social sciences have been telling us for a half century now: when we allow society to disregard the institution of marriage and in fact assault the institution of family, we are asking for – and will get – trouble.


The social science evidence on this is as overwhelming as it is clear: by every indicator, children will be worse off when not raised in a biological two-parent family. They will be more likely to do less well at school, to become involved in drugs, to commit suicide, to have a range of mental and psychological problems, and to get involved in gangs and criminal activity.

This has been documented so thoroughly now that only an ideologue who is pushing agendas can deny the evidence. Let me here just offer the smallest sampling of research data on this. These are just a few bits of the available evidence.

In an important book on the subject, Francis Ianni found that most gang members in America come from female-headed households. And a study of British communities in the American Journal of Sociology by Sampson and Groves found a direct statistical link between single parenthood and virtually every major type of crime, including mugging, violence against strangers, car theft and burglary.

One study tracked every child born on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 1955 for 30 years. It found that five out of six delinquents with an adult criminal record came from families where a parent – almost always the father – was absent.

A study by Douglas Smith and G. R. Jarjoura analysed victimisation data on over 11,000 individuals from three urban areas in New York, Florida and Missouri. They arrived at this startling conclusion: the proportion of single-parent households in a community predicts its rates of violent crime and burglary, but the community’s poverty level does not. Neither poverty nor race seem to account very much for the crime rate, compared to the proportion of single parent families, Smith and Jarjoura found.

In Australia, a book by Alan Tapper highlights this connection between broken families and crime. In a study of rising crime rates in Western Australia, Tapper suggests that “family breakdown in the form of divorce and separation is the main cause of the crime wave”.

A longitudinal study of 512 Australian children found that there are more offenders coming from families of cohabiting than married couples, and there are proportionally more offenders who become recidivists coming from families of cohabiting than married couples. The study concludes, “The relationship between cohabitation and delinquency is beyond contention: children of cohabiting couples are more likely to be found among offenders than children of married couples”.

Even researchers who are wary of making a connection between broken families and crime have conceded that some relationship exists between the two. For example, David Demo and Alan Acock, who reviewed dozens of studies on the subject concluded:

A tentative conclusion based on the evidence reviewed here is that antisocial behaviour is less likely to occur in families where two adults are present, whether as biological parents, step-parents, or some combination of biological parents and other adults.

Even stronger connections between crime and family breakdown have been made by the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, which compared crime rates with out-of-wedlock birth rates from 1903 to 1993. It found that the “percentage of ex-nuptial births correlates significantly with both serious and violent crime at both one and two decades time lapse”.

What we see happening in the UK is just further evidence of this. Many social commentators have pointed this out. Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist. He has worked with these sorts of people for decades and knows full well the connections between family breakdown and crime. And he sees the modern welfare state as playing a key role here.

He says:

British youth leads the Western world in almost all aspects of social pathology, from teenage pregnancy to drug taking, from drunkenness to violent criminality. There is no form of bad behaviour that our version of the welfare state has not sought out and subsidised.

British children are much likelier to have a television in their bedroom than a father living at home. One-third of them never eat a meal at a table with another member of their household – family is not the word for the social arrangements of the people in the areas from which the rioters mainly come. They are therefore radically unsocialised and deeply egotistical, viewing relations with other human beings in the same way as Lenin: Who whom, who does what to whom. By the time they grow up, they are destined not only for unemployment but unemployability.

For young women in much of Britain, dependence does not mean dependence on the government: that, for them, is independence. Dependence means any kind of reliance on the men who have impregnated them who, of course, regard their own subventions from the state as pocket money, to be supplemented by a little light trafficking. (According to his brother, Mark Duggan, the man whose death at the hands of the probably incompetent police allegedly sparked the riots, ‘was involved in things’, which things being delicately left to the imagination of his interlocutor.)

He says elsewhere:

Three men were run over and killed as they tried to protect their property in the very area of Birmingham in which I used to work, and through which I walked daily; the large town that I live near when I’m in England has also seen rioting. Only someone who never looked around him and never drew any conclusions from the faces and manner of the young men he saw would have been surprised.

The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.

And yet we have opinion makers and our political elites telling us it is a neat thing to deliberately bring children into the world without a mother and father. Thus Finance Minister Penny Wong proudly announced that she and her female lover are having a baby through IVF.

Miranda Devine offers some common sense commentary on this:

The fact that Penny Wong’s female partner is to have a baby is a cause for private celebration for them. But why are so many people exhorting the rest of us to celebrate as if this were some major milestone in human civilisation? You’d think no politician had ever had a child before.

We are supposed to ignore Tony and Margie Abbott’s three daughters because every time he is seen with them it is some sort of unfair snub to Julia Gillard and reflection on her marital status. The traditional heterosexual norm of a nuclear family and children is something to be kept in a closet like an embarrassment.

Tolerance has gone back to front. It is no longer good enough to accept without criticism female politicians in de facto or lesbian relationships. Now we have to downplay traditional marriage for fear of causing offence. No one can be a wife or husband any more. Everyone is a ‘partner’.

The unorthodox situation of a lesbian artificially inseminated with the sperm of a male ‘acquaintance’ we are supposed to laud as if it were the Second Coming, the wonderful precursor of what the New York Times once lauded as the ‘post-marital’ future. Well, no.

The media of course is using the Wong announcement to rally for their PC cause of the month: same-sex marriage. Says Devine,

I believe the push for same-sex marriage is not about enhancing the lives of gay couples. In countries where it has been legalised, there has been no rush to the altar. The issue is largely symbolic. It is simply a political tool to undermine the last bastion of bourgeois morality – the traditional nuclear family.

You only had to see the burning streets of London last week to see the manifestation of a fatherless society. The collapse of family life in Britain has been laid bare, reported to have the highest proportion of single mothers in Europe and nearly half of all children suffering family breakdown by the age of 16. Fatherless families in underprivileged boroughs of London are the norm.

People were quick to call for sanctions on the parents of feral youth looting shops and torching buildings. Clapham shop-owner Elizabeth Pilgrim wailed to the BBC: ‘They’re feral rats. What are those parents doing? Those children should be at home. They shouldn’t be out here causing mayhem.’ But the fact is the fathers of those children are probably long gone. There are no ‘parents’ to take charge and exert control over their wayward children.

The welfare state has taken over the father’s role of protector, provider, and enforcer, substituting sit-down money for love and care. And what a mess it has made: fatherless boys full of incoherent rage, fatherless girls having another generation of fatherless babies to a string of feckless men. It is politically incorrect to say so, but the ideal situation for a child is to be brought up in an intact family with a father and a mother.

As a rule, what prevents social chaos and the underclass is an intact family. What keeps children safe is an intact family, with a father in the home. Sure, there are aberrations, and you can always find evils within traditional families, domestic violence and child abuse.

But even this imperfect institution is better than the Hobbesian social chaos the children of the underclasses have been born into for the last 50 years. Marriage is not just a private relationship: it is a social good. Collectively, the erosion of the institution of marriage, and the relegating of fathers to the sidelines, is destructive to society.

And we have seen this perfectly played out in Britain this past week. And we will see more and more of it played out all over the Western world in days to come. Perhaps before too many more cities burn to the ground we will remember a vital truth: fathers are vitally important, and so too is heterosexual marriage.

When we play fast and loose with fathers and marriage we simply invite the sort of barbarism witnessed in London to become mainstream. We had better wise up before it is too late.