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March 3, 2001

Study says sons of single mothers less delinquent

Heather Sokoloff
National Post

Boys raised by single mothers are less likely to become delinquent than boys raised by single fathers, according to a study by Canadian and British researchers.

Researchers examined whether family structure affects the likelihood boys will end up involved in crime. They found boys living with single mothers were not more likely to become delinquent than boys from two-parent families characterized as harmonious.

"You really can't say what the best type of family is for a child. What this tells us is that you have to look carefully at the details," said Heather Juby, a research associate from Institut Nationale de Researche Scientifique, a research organization that works with the demographics department at Université de Montréal.

The study by Cambridge University looked at 411 males from working class families in South London, beginning in 1962 when they were 8-year-old boys, following them until age 46. Researchers set up an office in the neighbourhood and developed long-term, intimate relationships with the boys.

Thirty percent of boys who grew up in two-parent homes characterized as "high-conflict" received juvenile convictions, showing they were just as likely to become delinquent as boys from broken homes, where 29% received juvenile convictions.

How mothers became single also affected future criminal behaviour. In single-mother families where the father had died, 17% of boys ended up with criminal convictions as adults, compared to 32% when the father had left the family, but was still alive. This is possibly because the young boys whose fathers died had to assume the role of head of the household and matured quickly, Ms. Juby said.

The study appears in the Spring 2001 edition of the British Journal of Criminology.

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