Australian Christian Lobby’s Father’s Day message attacks single mothers

The head of the Australian Christian Lobby has delivered a post-Father’s Day message attacking single mothers and proclaiming that ‘fatherlessness’ is damaging society and leading to a generation of criminals, mentally unstable youth and potential rapists.

In his latest video post Martyn Iles, the Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director, lists off a string of statistics arguing against divorce and single parent families.

Iles does not give any source for any of his claims, but many of them are similar to long outdated and disputed reports previously cited by the Marriage Alliance during the campaign against marriage equality.

The ACL boss says 81% of single parent households in Australia are headed by women, something he claims is a “huge proportion of fatherlessness” in society. Iles says children in these families will be more likely to see their own relationships end in divorce, and they face a greater chance of living in poverty.

Iles mentions a study in the UK has shown that children whose parents separate are nine times more likely to commit a violent crime, and 70% of criminals in the country come from broken homes.

Turning to the USA, Iles says studies have shown that fatherlessness accounts for 63% of people who take their own life, 90% homeless people, 85% of children with behavioural disorders, 71% of high school dropouts, 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions, 75% of patients in substance abuse programs and 75% of rapist motivated by ‘displaced anger’.

Iles said when it comes to girls who are raised by single mothers, a US study has shown that they are 53% more likely to become teenage brides, and 111% more like to have children of their own before they reach their twentieth birthday. Iles claims the daughters of single mothers are 164% more likely to have children out of wedlock, and face a 90% chance of their own marriage ending is divorce.

Back in 2015 the Marriage Alliance, a group closely linked with the Australian Christian Lobby, released a Father’s Day advertisement that used similar statistics.

At the time OUTinPerth highlighted how many of the statistics being quoted were outdated or misrepresented. One example is the claim that children of single mother households make up 71% of High School dropouts.

This statistic appears to come from a report called ‘One Parent Families and Their Children: The School’s Most Significant Minority’ which was published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the Institute for Development of Educational Activities in 1980.

It’s a 39 year old study. The study was looking into the difference between single parent families and dual parent families, not families with two parents of the same gender.

During his video Iles quotes one study that says ” father-absent girls show precocious sexual interest, derogation of masculinity and males, and poor ability to maintain sexual and emotional adjustment with one male” which is from a report titled Father Absence and Reproductive Strategy: An Evolutionary Perspective by Patricia Draper and Henry Harpending which was first published in 1982.

More recent reports have highlighted that in the interviewing 37 year research has given a more enlightened and detailed explanation of why the statistics nearly four decades ago showed life was harder for children of single parent households.

Early this year a report published by Rebecca Sear, Paula Sheppard and David A Coall, titled Cross-cultural evidence does not support universal acceleration of puberty in father-absent households cited the work of Draper and Harpending, but also gave an overview of the subsequent research that has been completed since 1982.

Subsequent research has shown that a wide combination of factors may lead to children from single parent households being different to their peers. These include household income, family stress levels and parental investment in children.

What we have learned over the last four decades is that parents who spend more time parenting and building close bonds with their children see better outcomes. While it is obvious that this may be more challenging for single parents, simplistic views do not take into account that many single parents build up effective support systems for their children that involve multiple adults – including uncles and aunts, grandparents and close friends.

Definitions of ‘fatherless’ that take the view that if the father does not live in the home, then the child is fatherless, do not take into account that many children of single parents may see their fathers on a daily basis, or have other parental figures in their lives.

Looking deeper into some of the other statistics quoted by Iles soon reveals that a ‘cherry picking’ of results is likely to be occurring.

The claim that in the UK a study has shown that children whose parents separate are nine times more likely to commit a violent crime, and 70% of criminals in the country come from broken homes, appears to be highlighting a speech given by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith in 2010.

Duncan Smith made the remarks while speaking at a conference for Resolve, a charity that offers relationship counselling. The politician later went on to found the think tank The Centre for Social Justice.

A later report in 2012 painted a different picture. It showed that 47% of prisoners in the UK had come from homes where they grew up living with with both biological parents, while a further 6% came from homes where they lived with a biological parent and a step parent. Only 34% of offenders came from homes with a single parent.

Graeme Watson 



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