The way to save the most black lives

If we as a society truly think Black Lives Matter, then we need to find actionable ways to save the most black lives possible.  Deaths of black people by police number about 200-300 annually.  Even if you assume all of those deaths were preventable, that is only a minute fraction of the lives that could be saved by black men living with their children and the mothers of those children.


Nationally, about 35% of US households are headed by a single parent.  However, that varies drastically by race.  65% of black households are single-parent, the highest level for any ethnic group.  The group with the lowest percentage of single-parent families is Asian and Pacific Islander.  Whites are at 24%, American Indians are at 53%, and Hispanics are at 41%.

At a very high level, there is a remarkable correlation between single-parent households and other factors like reflect societal success like income, net worth, crime/incarceration, education.

RaceSingle parent households (SPH)% with high school diplomasAverage incomeAverage net worthIncarceration per capita (per 100k)
Native American53%74%Not listedNot listed1,291

The data show an obvious trend—Asians are the best ranked along every dimension, followed by whites, then Hispanics, and finally blacks.

Correlation does not equal causation.  To reach such conclusions would take enormous, expensive surveys.  Even then it might not be possible to tease out all the other important factors and isolate “single parent households”.  The rest of the analysis assumes there is a causation.  You are free to disagree.


Intuitively it makes sense that the people associated with single-parent households—both the kids, the parent living with the children, and the parent living without the children—are at increased risk.  The biggest culprit is wealth, or lack thereof; single-parent households tend to be poorer and with that comes a myriad of detriments: less healthcare, less nutrition, living in higher crime areas, and many more.

Beyond just the financial component, there are other reasons to think single-parent households increase mortality.  For the kids, there’s obvious value in having two parents.  Kids are less likely to have accidents if two set of eyes are watching instead of one.  Life-skills, especially those taught by a regularly present father may lead to less participation in drugs, crime, and gangs.  Depression and suicidal thoughts would seem easier to address with two parental resources rather than just one.

Much of this would apply for the adults as well.  The reduced stress of having to be “everything” for the parent with the kids would be reduced.  For the parent not with the kids, most often the father, being with his family likely has a positive impact.  He has something more to live for and a loving family to come home to—perhaps he takes better care of himself with diet and exercise, engages in less criminal activity, seeks to improve his professional prospects to support the children he sees every day.  This is all conjecture and would of course need to be supported by data, but it certainly passes the stink test.

Sadly, the research in this area is sparse and not comprehensive.  Also, it is riddled with correlation/causation and other statistical issues.  However, the research that has been done statistically significantly concludes that single-parent households lead to premature deaths . . .  for all involved.  Mortality for children increase by about 40% to 100%, for the parent who lives with the children (typically the mother) by about 50%, and even for the parent not living with the children (typically the father) by about 200%.

Both boys and girls of single-parent families have increased mortality, but this increased mortality is doubled for boys compared to girls.  Suicide is about twice as common for single-parent children, with a greater impact on girls than boys.  Death due to household accidents is about 40% more common for girls and 270% more common for boys.  Death due to addiction is about 400% more common. All really, really sad stuff.

The data also show that the risk among single-parent children, already much higher, is especially deadly for young kids.  Infants and toddlers in single-parent households have about a 100% mortality increase while the older kids have a 30% increase.

Reasonable people can debate the precise statistical impact, but the data seems to clearly show these broad trends:

  • Kids of single-parent households have increased mortality, and it is worse for younger kids and for boys.
  • Both parents associated with single-parent households have increased mortality, and that worse for the fathers/parents not in the household.


We can estimate the annual deaths caused by single parent households.  The data is incomplete so we have to make a few assumptions on population size, but those probably don’t have a large impact on the final calculations, and certainly not on the conclusions that single-parent households are leads to thousands of black deaths.  The rest is just math that we learned in 4th grade.

In the United StatesPopulation (millions)Annual death rate (all population)Incremental death rate due to SPHIncremental deaths associated with SPHIncremental deaths reduced by SPH rate for blacks going to US average
Black kids (4 and younger) in SPH2.00.12%0.12%2,4001,292
Black kids (5 and older) in SPH6.30.10%0.03%1,8901,018
Black mothers (age 19-50) associated with SPH6.10.13%0.06%3,6601,970
Black fathers (age 19-50) associated with SPH6.10.23%0.46%28,06015,109
TOTAL   36,01019,390

Applying those increased death rates to the populations of kids, mothers, and fathers associated with single-parent households, we get about 36,000 deaths of black people each year due to single-parent households.  Assuming that black single-parent household rate fell to the US average, (being reduced from 65% to 35%), that still is over 19,000 incremental black deaths.

Most sobering are the kids.  Over 2,300 black kids are dying each year because of greater single-parent households (more than 6 every day).  And this is mostly focused on babies and toddlers.

We all want a better world.  We all want fewer black people dying.  Reforming law enforcement will likely lead to a few reduced black deaths.  Increasing two-parent households will save orders of magnitude more black lives, especially the most precious black lives, the black kids.

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