Ware Farms

Speaking truth to prejudice

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Highly Qualified Single Mothers

While newspaper reports of studies like to simplify things by reporting only the average differences found, data samples are better described by looking at both the mean or average, and the standard deviation or variability among all those who make up the samples.

These two statistics are represented as a normal distribution, the familiar bell shaped curve.

If we look at the green curve in the illustration and take this to be the distribution of children with two parents, then imagine an identical curve offset a smidgeon to the left, this being the distribution of children with one parent. The separation would be two points, the difference that family structure makes when all other factors are held equal. The areas under each curve represent 100% of each sample. Due to the wide variation in the children sampled, we see there is a large area of overlap in the distributions represented by these two curves. Thus we find that while 52% of the children in two parent families do better than the average child in a one parent family, we also find that leaves 48% who do worse. Conversely, while 52% of children in one parent families do worse than the average child in a two parent family, there are also the 48% who do better.

The large variations due to the differences in family income, education, health care availability, drug abuse and criminal records, ethnic and community factors within each sample are far more important than the two percent difference in the averages between the two groups.

When we look at the women in the NY Times articles we find women who are well able to afford the services described. These are not single mothers as a result of a tussle in the back seat of a car. If we look at one, for example, who is at the 95th percentile of all single parents, this means her child will do better than 95% of other children in the one parent category. When we plot this 95th percentile line on the one parent graph, then look at the position it falls on the two parent graph, we find that this child will also do better than 91% of the children being raised in two parent families.

No matter what else we say, this child is highly likely to end up in the top 10% of his or her class. In fact, all the children of mothers described in the NY Times stories are likely to do well above the average for children as a whole. The fact that the children of the average single mother are twice as likely to end up in prison has no bearing on the results we would expect from the well educated, high income women represented in these NY Times articles.

Foster care and adoption agencies look at the totality of the qualifications of those they select. They don't arbitrarily exclude anyone who doesn't fit the mom and pop mold, which is well down on the list in importance. They choose parents who will best serve the interests of the child. In the same way, we should look at the overall qualifications of the women in the NY Times articles and, if anything, encourage these women to have more children, not less. Having a child in the top 10% of the class is not a problem that needs to be fixed.


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