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Teen-age Deviant Behavior Linked To Single-Parent and Stepparent Families

March 22, 1985

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ A study of 12,000 American teen-agers concludes that those who live with one parent or with a stepparent have ″markedly higher rates of deviant behavior,″ a leading sociologist says.

The study from a national sample of 12- to 17-year-olds indicates that arrests, truancy, running away, smoking and other misbehavior were more likely in single-parent and stepparent families regardless of income, race or ethnic background.

Terming the results ″very surprising,″ Stanford University Professor Sanford Dornbusch said Thursday that the study will be published later this spring in the University of Chicago’s ″Child Development″ magazine.

″The powerful finding of stepparent families is especially surprising,″ he said. ″When controlled for income, it still stands up. It’s more suprising because stepparents don’t usually have the same economic problems as single-parent families.″

In families with two natural parents, the study showed no difference in social behavior when one parent or both parents worked, he said.

The study was based on a 1970 National Health Examination Survey of 12,000 youths, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

″The data had never been looked at in this way to see how deviant behavior related to the single-parent and stepparent experience,″ said Dornbusch, former president of the American Sociological Association’s social psychology and education groups.

Researchers from Stanford’s Center for the Study of Youth Development interviewed a sampling of children and parents and collected school records, he said.

″We found single parents gave their kids greater autonomy earlier in deciding how late to stay out, how they spent money and so forth,″ he said.

″When young people mke those decisions all by themselves, at too early an age, it’s much more likely to produce deviance,″ even when the parents’ education or income is taken into account, Dornbusch said.

Census Bureau statistics show that half of all American youths will find themselves in a single-parent household before they reach 18, he said. Single- parent families account for 21 percent of U.S. households.

″Additional adults living in the households with single parents helped in reducing deviant behavior,″ Dornbusch said. ″We couldn’t tell from our data whether the additional adults were grandparents, lovers, friends, aunts or uncles.″

But that finding has important implications for policy-makers, he said.

″The government penalizes parents in programs like Aid To Families with Dependent Children if they have other adults living with them,″ he said. ″We feel that having adults moving in should be encouraged rather than discouraged.″

Government policy ″tends to treat single-parent families as aberrations,″ he said, ″but they are such a high proportion of the population that we can’t ignore them.″

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