Only 17 percent of African American youth who reach age 18 have always lived with their married mother and father. In the District of Columbia, this number drops to 9 percent. Any policy initiative or social movement to ameliorate the plight of the black community must first address the deterioration of the black family. Contrary to popular public opinion, violent crime, drug abuse, and mass incarceration among African Americans is not a matter of race, and positing it as such fatally distracts from the root problem of family breakdown.
Across every race, the non-intact family poses significant challenges and development barriers to youth. The prevalence of non-intact families in the black community is especially high. As shown below, the black family is the least intact of all races/ethnicities. Almost four times as many Asian adolescents are raised by their married parents as black youths. Because black youths are least likely to come from intact families, the public frequently confounds the role of race and family intactness in shaping adolescents.
As Kay Hymowitz pointed out in her Atlantic article this week, although racism has significantly decreased since the 1960s family brokenness has significantly increased. Between 1950 and 2012, the percentage of black youth raised by their married parents was cut in half. Rather than rejection stemming from race, black children now face rejection stemming from their parents’ relationship, and resulting in their family being broken. Put a lot of these families together and you get a broken community. As shown in the Violence in Baltimore report, non-intact families tend to foster frequently detrimental environments for children. According to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect:
Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of physical abuse is:
- 3 times higher in the single parent family
- 4 times higher if the biological parents are cohabiting
- 5 times higher in a married stepfamily
- 10 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner
Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of sexual abuse is:
- 4.8 times higher in the single-parent family
- 5 times higher when the biological parents are cohabiting
- 8.6 times higher in a married step-family
- 19.8 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner
Children frequently respond to this rejection in externalizing behaviors like aggression and crime. State-by-state analysis indicates that, in general, a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in single-parent homes (including divorces) accompanies a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime. Compared with children raised in intact married-parent families, the rate of youth incarceration is 2 times higher in mother-only families, 2.7 times higher in mother-stepfather families, and 3.7 times higher in father-stepmother families.
The link between family structure and crime and abuse rates is well-established, and downplaying its significance is detrimental to our youngest citizens. As Ms. Hymowitz states, “Waving all of this away as ‘respectability politics’ ignores this history; it ignores anthropology; and it ignores many decades of research. It also risks neglecting the real suffering of black children and their communities.”