Fatherlessness & Crime

Fatherlessness & Crime


In a famous 1965 report written at the request of President Lyndon Johnson and titled “The Negro Family: The Case for Action,” the social scientist (and later Democratic Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted that the deterioration of the black family, already approaching crisis proportions, would result in skyrocketing crime rates if not addressed. In an Americamagazine article expanding on his report, Moynihan wrote:

“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder … are not only to be expected, they are very near to inevitable.”

This vision of the social pathologies of a rising new “underclass” of fatherless young people was prescient. By 1976, illegitimacy rates had risen to nearly 10% for whites (as opposed to about 3% in 1960) and 50.3% for blacks (well more than double what the rate had been 16 years earlier). In 1987, for the first time in the history of any American racial or ethnic group, the birth rate for unmarried black women surpassed that for married black women.[1] Current illegitimacy rates in the U.S. are 29% for whites and 73% for African Americans.

The consequences of these trends have been catastrophic for children. As Moynihan predicted, youngsters raised by single parents are significantly more likely to behave aggressively and violently, to engage in criminal activity, and to serve jail time before age 30. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 60% of rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of long-term prison inmates are men who grew up in fatherless homes.

As Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector reports, a major study of 11,000 individuals confirmed that “the percentage of single-parent households with children between the ages of 12 and 20 is significantly associated with rates of violent crime and burglary.”[2] Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, former Congressional Budget Office director June O’Neill likewise found that young black men raised in one-parent homes are twice as likely to commit crimes when compared to black men raised by intact families—even after controlling for a wide range of variables such as family income, urban residence, neighborhood environment, and parents’ education. O’Neill further reports that if young males raised by one parent reside in a neighborhood with many other single-parent families, they are fully three times likelier to engage in criminal activity than are their peers with two parents.[3]

Since the black illegitimacy rate is so high, the aforementioned pathologies plague blacks more than they affect any other demographic. “Even if white people were to become morally rejuvenated tomorrow,” writes George Mason University Professor Walter E. Williams, himself an African American, “it would do nothing for the problems plaguing a large segment of the black community. Illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, and fraudulent education are devastating problems, but they are not civil-rights problems.”[4]


  1. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), p. 240.
  2.  Douglas Smith and G. Roger Jajoura, “Social Structure and Criminal Victimization,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency (February 1988), pp.27-52. Cited in Robert Rector, “The Effects of Welfare Reform” (March 15, 2001).
  3.  M. Anne Hill and June O’Neill, Underclass Behaviors in the United States: Measurement and Analysis of Determinants (New York: Baruch College, March 1990). Cited in Robert Rector, “The Effects of Welfare Reform,” The Heritage Foundation (March 15, 2001).
  4.  Walter E. Williams, “Struggle for Civil Rights Is Over,” Conservative Chronicle (April 27, 1994), p. 26.

Additional Resources:

The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community
By The Heritage Foundation
March 17, 1995

Ann Coulter’s Statistics on Single Motherhood (and the Suffering it Causes)
By Scottthong.com

The Father Factor
By The National Fatherhood Initiative

Effects of Fatherless Families on Crime Rates
By Marripedia.org

Single-Parent Families
By Greenhaven Press

Fathers: Who Needs Them?
By Karl Zinsmeister
March 4, 2003

Fatherless Homes Statistics
By Fathermag.com

The Consequences of Fatherlessness
By Fathers.com

The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies
By Kay Hymowitz
August 25, 2005

The Origin of Black Female-Headed Families
By Erol Ricketts

The Moynihan Report and Ongoing Family Breakdown
By Rich Lowry
May 11, 2010

Why Our Black Families Are Failing
By William Raspberry
July 25, 2005

Windy City Silence: The Truth behind the City’s Youth-Crime Spree Remains Unspoken
By Heather MacDonald
October 1, 2010


Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem
By David Blankenhorn


Black Fathers Matter
By Larry Elder, for Prager University
June 2016

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