Nov. 5, 1998 Writer: Cathy Keen
Sources: Edwin Page, (540) 857-0016; Ron Akers, (352) 392-1025
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Crime rates for adolescents from two-parent families are lower than for teens from single-parent families, even when one parent is a stepparent, a new University of Florida study finds.
"The evidence suggests that divorce will have an effect on delinquency only where a two-parent family structure is not re-established," said Edwin Page, who did the research for his doctoral dissertation in sociology. "Youths living in two-parent families where one parent was a stepparent were no more delinquent than those living with both of their biological parents."
In this newly released nationwide study, Page studied comprehensive data on 1,169 boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 19. The data was collected as part of the National Youth Survey from 1978-1980. The participants lived with either a single parent, two parents or, in some cases, a relative or someone else other than a parent.
"The findings imply that having two adult caretakers in a household allows less opportunity for kids to go down delinquent paths," he said. "Two parents are better able than one to maintain a positive influence on kids when there are delinquent influences in the neighborhood or delinquent friends."
Since it's been known for some time that children from single-parent families face a higher risk of delinquency than those from two-parent families, the study may indicate that it's the bond with both parents and not the spiral of DNA that bodes well for the child's behavior, said Ron Akers, a UF sociologist who supervised Page's research.
"It's not the biological connection, it's the social connection -- having an intact family structure," Akers said. "Two parents are better able to socialize and better able to supervise. I don't want to give the impression that single-parent families or single mothers are incompetent. Most kids from single-parent families turn out just fine. It's just that the odds are tougher for one person than two."
Single parents also are more likely than dual-parent families to face economic constraints that increase the chances of their children becoming delinquent, Akers said. "Single-parent families tend to be poorer and live in high-risk neighborhoods for crime," he said. "Not only are the peers children see more likely to be delinquent, but the neighborhoods and schools have fewer resources to help kids who are at risk."
The study found the relationship between family structure and delinquency was stronger for females than males. The difference in delinquent behavior between girls from one-parent families and girls from two-parent families was greater than the difference in delinquency between boys from single-parent and two-parent families.
"I don't have a real good answer for that other than to say that the family, in terms of discipline and socialization, tends to control females more than males," he said. "So family structure has a more direct impact on females than males."
The number of families with stepparents has increased during the last 30 years, although that trend has abated somewhat recently, Akers said. "In the last few years, we've seen a moderation of the divorce rate, the number of single mothers and the number of unmarried mothers," he said. "People remarry after a divorce, but second marriages also have a higher divorce rate than first marriages."
No matter what the trends, more can be done to help families, including providing economic support, assistance in the schools and parental skill training, Akers said. "We need to help sustain intact two-parent families, but at the same time we don't want to forsake the single-parent family," he said. "It seems to me these are good policies regardless of the impact they have on delinquency."
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