This makes sense. A wealth of research shows that family structure – and the presence of fathers especially – makes a far bigger difference to the lives of boys than girls. A recent analysis of American adolescents, for example, found that boys who lacked a father figure at home were more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour. This effect was largely constant regardless of income or the mother’s behaviour, and often persisted into adulthood. For daughters, however, the presence of a father did not make much of a difference.
As the number of single-parent households rises, the resilience of girls may help to explain the widening academic gender gap across much of the industrialised world. A recent study of 1m children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002 found that boys born to poorly educated, unmarried mothers in neighbourhoods with bad schools were much more likely to have cognitive and behavioural problems than girls raised under the same conditions. Not only did the boys perform worse academically, but also they were more likely to drop out and sell drugs or become violent. “The mothers I see raising boys alone really struggle and suffer. I’ve seen situations in which a marriage comes apart and the mother and daughter weather the storm, they have each other, but the son really acts up,” says Grover."
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