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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

How Does Family Instability Affect Girls?

A recent article published by W. Bradford Wilcox focuses on the effects of parental instability on young girls. Research in the past has concluded that boys are more affected by separation and divorce than are girls. Boys are more likely to act out and fall behind in school as a result of being raised in a single-parent home. As they grow up, young adult men raised in a single-parent home are more likely to be unemployed than those who grew up with married parents. On the flipside, young men from married, low-income families are more successful than their female peers.

Boys and girls raised in single-parent households may develop different attitudes early on that affect their adult lives. The “lesson” girls learn is from the positive presence of a mother; if the girl becomes a mother herself one day, she anticipates having to step up to provide for her family. Boys, on the other hand, learn from the void left by the father; without a strong male role model, they are left to conclude that the men around them are not committed or working.

Taking data from Deseret News/BYU’s 2016 American Family Survey, Wilcox discovered that women from single parent homes are worse off, overall, than men who came from similar circumstances. As adults, these women are more likely to experience troubled romantic relationships; additionally, they are more likely to experience financial difficulties.

While boys may lash out at a younger age due to family instability, leading to time in jail or poor academic performance, girls in similar circumstances may struggle to maintain strong, healthy relationships as adults. This can become a cycle of instability, resulting in another generation of single mothers and struggling children.

About the author

Caty Long is a first year Master of Theological Studies student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and currently an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the USCCB.