The conventional wisdom on children raised by single parents says that they must be missing some essential piece--a mother's nurturing influence, a father's discipline.
The truth, says Douglas Downey, Ph.D., is that kids living with their moms don't turn out so differently from kids living with dads. "Some people assume that one parent is more necessary," says the Ohio State University assistant professor of sociology. "People expecting this will be disappointed."
Downey looked at data collected from students raised by lone parents to see if delinquent behavior, self-esteem and mental ability were affected by whether kids were raised by their mother or father. To assess the long-term effect of having one guardian, he looked at surveys of adults who had been raised by a single parent.
Surprisingly, Downey found only two disparities between kids raised by women and those brought up by men: children who lived with their mothers performed slightly better on standardized tests and tended to have a half a year more education than kids who lived with their fathers. "There are ideas about kids developing characteristics by exposure to one parent or another," says Downey, "but we didn't really find that at all." What differences do exist between moms and dads, says Downey, are more societal than sex-related: single fathers tend to have higher socioeconomic status, higher prestige jobs and more education than single moms.