Marilyn thinks fathers don't make much difference

Marilyn is Wrong Copyright © 1997-1998 Herb Weiner. All rights reserved.

Ask Marilyn ® by Marilyn vos Savant is a column in Parade Magazine, published by PARADE, 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA. According to Parade, Marilyn vos Savant is listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame" for "Highest IQ."

In her Parade Magazine colunn of May 18, 1997, when asked the effect of boys being raised only by their mothers, Marilyn responds "I don't think there will be much difference."

Sorry, Marilyn

I believe that if you actually studied one parent (not necessarily mothers) vs. two parent (not necessarily one of each sex) families, rather than merely speculating, you would find a tremendous difference. Single parents often (not always) have less time to devote to their families, and often (not always) have financial difficulties that place the children in a less desirable environment, where they may be exposed to drugs and crime. Recognizing these realities does not indicate a disrespect for women; rather, it indicates that two parents, working together to raise a family, have an advantage over a single parent. Single parents (mothers or fathers) who overcome this disadvantage deserve tremendous respect.

Here are the studies to prove it

Richard <> wrote to refer me to Shared Physical Custody References, a list of reference material prepared by Raman Autar <>. These provide evidence that in many cases, fathers make a significant difference.

And some more...

Doug Reid <> sent the following information:

Source: Statistics Canada November, 1996, "What Do We Know about Children from Single-mother Families?", issue 89-550.

From Appendix 1: Rates of problems from single-mother vs two parent families. (n=21,873 chldren aged 4-11, X = times the prevalence). Also, 16.7% of all families are headed by single mothers, 92.7% of single parent families are headed by mothers and 71% are below the low income cutoff.

hyperactivity            1.74
conduct disorder         2.36
emotional disorder       2.18
one beh'l problems       2.02
repeated grade           2.56
current school problems  2.22
social impairment        2.53
one total problems       2.21

i.e., children from single mother families are 2.21 (221%) times as likely to have one or more total problems than those from two parent families, 2.18 times as likely to have an emotional disorder, etc.

457,659 children are in single mother families and 128,895 (40.6%) children have one or more total problems requiring attention.

Numbers don't add up

Ron Whittle <> wrote to point out that 128,895 is 28.2%, not 40.6%, of 457,659 children.

Parenting Roles in Nature

Heather Uhlemann <> wrote to say
The ignorance of parenting roles in nature to which Ms. Savant refers is really her own. To compare human parenting to species in which mothers bear the sole responsibility in raising a child is grossly inaccurate. This goes not only against most current sociobiological theories, but also against common sense and logic.

If Ms. Savant's statements are correct, why is it that the majority of fathers do stay and develop lasting relationships with their offspring? Why wouldn't the majority of men abandon their children? The natural rewards would far outweigh the rewards of parenting. Men would be able to produce more offspring and mix their genes with a wider variety of the gene pool, causing the kind of mutations which ensure survival (natural selection), as is the case among so many other species. Why then do men stay? Ms. Savant states that it is voluntary...perhaps because of social pressure? And yet In every society, even the most primitive, men take responsibilities in raising their children. Why? What's the payoff? Well, the studies show children with two active parents do better in school, and are healthier and happier. In pre-social welfare times they would have been way more likely to survive. Human children spend 13 years reaching maturity, at least a year of which time they are completely helpless, and many more years of which for all practical purposes they are dependent on their parents for nearly everything. Seems like a little too much for just one person to handle to me, even the most nurturing. Most animals have other ways of ensuring suvival of the offspring, such as large litters (and short periods to full maturity), or a community of female caretakers (as in gorillas).Clearly male parental bonding is an evolutionary tactic for aiding survival, and humans aren't unique in this aspect, monogamy and strong paternal ties are present in many species of birds.

The social argument doesn't hold with me either. In fact I think our socialization tends toward the opposite...encouraging men to leave the home by making sex so widely available and wealth so easy to obtain, as well as easing the need for two parents by ensuring survival through social aid. So my arguments would be just the opposite of Ms. Savant's. The difference...mine are based on logic and evidence...not on my wounded pride.

Men's parenting styles may be different but I can't believe they don't love their children as much or worry as much about them as women. If Ms. Savant is correct why would a man ever fight for custody of his child/ren? And yet men are more likely to end up in court doing just that than fighting paternity.

I agree that males taking more responsibility in parenting is not the answer to all social problems, but as a mother I'm more insulted by Ms. Savant's statements than by anyone claiming men are essential in parenting.

Correlation does not equal Causation

J Lopez <> wrote to point out that
The statistics noted by Doug Reid simply show that children of single mothers have on average more problems than children from two parents. They do not in any way demonstrate that single parenthood is the proximate cause of the problems. Single parenthood may be a symptom, rather than the underlying cause, of problems in certain households.

Environment Prior to Breakup

Amy <> wrote to point out that
If the child's parents are not together, there was more than likely quite a bit of conflict and anger and deceit going on prior to the break up that has lasting effects on kids. It's rare when a parent just "peacefully" disappears. Not to mention that the absent parent is prone to dumping out on financial responsibilities as well as emotional ones.

Your reply skirted on blaming single mothers, like we have a choice or something. Actually, I'm doing much better and so is my son since I let his father terminate his rights.

Some Rebuttals

Jay Bowden <> has this response for J. Lopez:
Yes, it is true that correlation does not prove causation. That's what the cigarette makers claimed for years and years when study after study showed cigarette smoking correlated with diseases and early death. They said until we know the mechanism by which cigarettes cause disease, there was no proof that they did. Perhaps J Lopez used to be part of the tobacco lobby?

and this response for Amy:

Amy, while your personal experience may be different, the fact is that most parents are not divorcing because they find themselves "at war" with each other. Most parents divorce simply because one or the other thinks they could be happier with someone else. The statistics show that this is the woman's choice 2 to 1 over the mans. You can read about this in Barbara Dafoe-Whiteheads's book The Divorce Culture. She calls it "Expressive Divorce" and says it results for a false belief that divorce is not that bad for children, and a disregard for the interests of the other "stakeholdres" in the marriage (the children). last updated June 30, 1998 by