In this paper, we review what is known about the life chances of children raised in single mother families and the extent to which these children are disadvantaged relative to their peers. Because we are concerned about life chances, most of the outcomes we consider are measured in adolescence and early adulthood. While there is good evidence that father absence has negative consequences for young children, our main concern is whether or not these disadvantages persist into adulthood. We begin the next section by showing the changes in children's family structure between 1960 and 2000. Next, we describe the range of outcomes that have been shown to be associated with father absence, and the evidence that supports the various explanations for these associations. Of particular importance is the issue of whether the positive correlation between father absence and poor outcomes in children can be interpreted as causal. Finally, we discuss what we can and cannot conclude, from both a scientific and policy perspective, about the role of family structure in the development and success of children who grow up in the US today.
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