Why is their a strong belief that single women can't raise boys?

I’ve heard this from quite a lot of people. This is mainly directed at the African American community in the US. They say that single women cannot raise boys to be “men” and that only men can do it because the female experience is different from the male.

I understand that there are differences between men and women but do they make it difficult for a women to raise boys or is it just that women and men have been conditioned to believe otherwise?

My belief is that raising a child (whether your male or female), in a single household when your living in poor conditions is very difficult.

I personally was raised by a single mother as an only child. She was not a strict person who used corporal punishment (a bit when I was younger), but she was firm and fair. She always used to tell me that If I was mature enough to understand consequences and that if I was behaving badly or committed an offense, she would just kick me out or let the law deal with me. I think that’s fair. I am a respectable adult today. I don’t think I missed out much on not having a father.

People mainly adopt this as a rationalisation for socially conservative views; occasionally as a rationalisation for racist views.

Undoubtedly there is a time in any boy’s development where he will benefit from having good models of manhood and good relationships with adult men who are important in his life, and correspondingly he will suffer if he does not have these. A father is, or should be, well-positioned to fill this role. But there is no law of God, man or nature which says that only a father can fill this role; it can be filled by people in the extended family, by people in a blended family, or by other people who are simply well-positioned to fill it.

I think where you may have a problem is a situation where you have a single-parent family and a dysfunctional wider family/social isolation or marginalisation/etc. All these factors may combine to make it difficult for the boy to develop an appropriate relationship with a suitable man in his life, simply because there are very few people with a stable place in his life. And of course those factors will also tend to make for more single-parent families in the first place. But your root problem there is not single parenthood; it’s disfunction/isolation/marginalisation

Ascribing “racism” or conservatism to these views is just vile.

Children benefit from stable two parent families. This shouldn’t be controversial. The problem is that the state has replaced the family in many respects. This is not by accident.

Do you have any objection to saying that single fathers have problems raising daughters? I know several single fathers who do a great job and would agree. It’s not impossible to do so. That does not mean that it’s not the best situation.

I think you’re missing the point. Sure, children benefit by having stable two-parent families. The question is, if they don’t have a stable two-parent family, must they suffer? Or can that benefit be provided by some other structure/set of relationships?

I think where social conservatism comes into it is the unthinking assumption that the stable, two-parent family is the only possible structure, simply because it’s the one that, culturally, we are most familiar with. The truth is that, in historical terms, our family structures are quite atomised, and we expect the nuclear family to do a lot of the heavy lifting that, at other times, or in other places, is done by the extended family. But we fail to acknowledge this. Hence we assume that, in a situation where there is no stable, two-parent nuclear family, this is a disaster, and harm is inevitable.

In fact it isn’t inevitable. And if, say, in our own extended family somebody was widowed at a time when they still had young boys , we’d never say that the widow (let’s assume it’s a widow) could not raise her boys. The wider family network would make bloody sure she could raise her boys by stepping up to the plate to provide the adult male role models/relationships that would complement her mothering.

It can be done. Cultures that aren’t so heavily invested in the nuclear family do it routinely; we perhaps have to make a particular effort do to it when the nuclear family dissolves or breaks down. What is problematic, and what I ascribe to social conservatism or to racism, is not the recognition that it needs to be done, but the assumption that it can’t or won’t be done.

My paternal grandmother raised two boys without a father around… but they had close relationships with uncles.

I think the problem is where you a concentration of women raising children without the fathers around, in a community that has few men to act a positive male role models.

Yes I think it is important that there are good male role models somewhere if there isn’t a good father-figure around.

Some of the time, the person saying it is a man expressing an exaggerated notion of the abilities of men, in this case to raise other men.

Expressing exaggerated notions of the abilities of men is totally something that men often do.

Or where male role models themselves participate in anti-social activities and the females believe that that is how men normally behave.


I don’t know that boys necessarily need a male role model, just a role model who is somewhat supportive of things boys like doing. I bet that a single mother who works as an engineer or used to play World of Warcraft would do a better job raising boys than the stereotypical killjoy who openly believes everything their sons like is a waste of time, money or a moral peril.

And this is the context in which the belief the OP refers to comes up; the original issue is more one of “a society where there are few successful males is not the best one in which to raise successful males”, it’s a social problem, but if it gets reduced to a single-family problem then there is a second issue. When that reduction happens, the speakers are confusing a social problem with an individual one; social problems affect to a greater or lesser degree all individuals in a society, but those differences of degree are very important. “Bad healthcare” is a social problem, but people who happen to be in good health suffer it less than those whose health is bad. Also, each type of problem needs to be solved at the level at which it exists: social problems, at the social level; if a social problem is misidentified as being individual, the rest of society washes its hands of it.

I agree. One of my closest friends is a man raised by his mother with no contact with his father. But, he had a couple of uncles, a stepfather for part of the time, and was essentially surrounded by friends, all of whom had fathers who were both part of their households, and more importantly, involved with their sons.

He turned out fine, and I suspect that the presence of so many good male role models, and a couple of not-so-good ones (stepfather, for one) for contrast was a big part of it. Not only did he see how most men behave, but he saw that contrast of how a loser looks in comparison.

A boy being raised by a woman, among other boys mostly raised by women isn’t going to have that good role model, nor that contrast, especially if all the men in question aren’t good role models- they only see one side of the puzzle- the bad role models (or total absence). I can see how that would lead to something more akin to “Lord of the Flies” than civil society prefers.

I don’t think it’s a strong belief held by many. I think it’s mainly just a circumstantial remark when a woman is perceived to have failed at raising boys without a father. Throughout history women have raised families without a man in the picture, if this concept held water the world would be even more screwed up than it is.

By contrast, I think a boy is better off raised only by a strong woman than being raised by a shitty specimen of a man as a role model. I used to know a guy whose father always called him gay (from a very young age, and disparagingly), kicked him around physically and treated him like complete shit throughout his childhood. The friend wasn’t gay but he had some major insecurity and depression issues by the time he was an adult because of that pile of shit “role model”.

I think I understand your point. But if single mothers are less successful in raising sons so that they become good role models. the social problem of no good male role models is going to be exacerbated.

So I don’t think you can say “this is a social problem” or “this is a family problem”. The one leads to the other, and the other leads to the one.

Single parent families in the US are overwhelmingly female-headed, and children raised in a single parent family are at higher risk for all kinds of negative social outcomes. “Higher risk” does not mean “all”; it means higher risk than a stable two-parent family. This applies to girls as well as boys - it is just that some of the negative outcomes are associated only with one sex or the other. An unwed teen age girl who gets pregnant suffers greater consequences than the boy who impregnated her. Males in general rape at enormously higher rates than females. Therefore if being raised in a single-parent household increases the risk of becoming a rapist later in life, that is going to be overwhelmingly more consequent on boys than girls.

I don’t think it is so much that single women can’t raise boys - it’s that both boys and girls turn out less well in such a situation, and some of the ways they turn out are more noticeable, like crime. And the higher rates that boys suffer from things like bad school performance and emotional problems, no matter what their family background, are made worse if they were raised by a single parent. And thus are also more noticeable.


(bolding mine)Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. Care to elaborate?

The social-problem version is one I’ve heard described by analogy with young male elephants, as in this column by William Raspberry: The Elephants’ Tale.

There is so much disregard of the actual numbers in this thread. It is akin to saying people associate cigarette smoking with lung cancer but I know several people who smoked and didn’t get it so there must not be a connection.
Children of single parents are more likely to have depression and anxiety, are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become teen parents, more likely to be arrested, less likely to go to college and less likely to get a good paying job.
However, more likely to happen does not mean guaranteed to happen.

Assuming you can back up those claims, does it matter if the single parent is male or female? And to what extent are they more or less likely to do those things? And does that apply across social strata, or are there other factors related to single parenthood that might be the primary reason for those results?

Difficult to say - most of the research looks at single parents in general.

I did find -


I also found this -


So AFAICT single fathers do about as well as single mothers when all other things are equal, but all other things usually aren’t equal.

So the belief expressed in the OP should be that single women do less well in raising boys, and also when raising girls. And the same for single fathers.

Single parents do less well in general. The relatively better economic circumstances of single fathers mean that they do better than single mothers.

Another complicating factor might be that the default for children born out of wedlock, and often in divorce, is that the mother is the custodial parent. Factors about the mother that causes custody to be awarded to a father I would expect to affect the child’s outcome as well.