The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Boys on the Bubble

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Never easy to traverse, the path from boyhood to manhood proves especially treacherous for boys growing up in broken homes. Indeed, a new study adduces troubling evidence that many of these boys are headed for turbulent lives likely to bring grief to themselves and others.

Conducted by researchers at Turku University in Finland, the study assesses the risk of “adverse long-term outcomes” for a large nationally representative sample of Finnish boys born in 1981. That risk, as it turns out, runs very high for boys who grow up without the protections of an intact family. For when the scholars examine the boys diagnosed with any of five different types of psychopathology, they conclude, “Living in other than a two-biological-parent family was associated with all psychopathology groups” (p.001 for all five types).

The Finnish researchers particularly highlight the linkage between family structure and the emergence of “comorbid conduct and emotional problems,” stressing that this comorbidity predicted “adverse outcomes of all types, criminal, psychiatric, and functional, in young adulthood.” Of the boys in this study who were diagnosed with this type of comorbidity, “39% did not live with two biological parents,” compared to only 12 percent of the boys in the general-population reference group. When the researchers deploy a multivariable statistical model that accounted for parental educational levels and other social characteristics, they calculate that boys from non-intact families were almost five times (Odds Ratio, 4.7) more likely to develop this perilous pattern of comorbidity than were peers from intact families.

The authors of the study worry about the lasting consequences of the pattern of comorbidity they have limned in their data. Compared to their peers, the boys manifesting this pattern of comorbidity appear headed for “the worst outcomes and highest risk of subsequent psychiatric disorders, [and of] committing criminal offenses.” Though this deleterious pattern of comorbidity showed up in only 4 percent of the total sample of boys involved in this study, the researchers report that these boys committed more than one quarter (26 percent) of the criminal offenses documented in later long-term tracking.

At a time when family disintegration is all too common in Helsinki and in Houston, this study will come as good news only to those who are trying to enlarge the international employment opportunities in psychiatry and criminal justice.

(Andre Sourander et al., “Who Is at Greatest Risk of Adverse Long-Term Outcomes? The Finnish From a Boy to a Man Study,” The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46 [2007]: 1148–61, emphasis added.)