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Too few men leads to youth violence, University of Michigan study finds

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29 2013 11:35 a.m. MST

Bystanders look on as demonstrators march from a memorial for Kimani "Kiki" Gray on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. The 16-year-old was shot to death on a Brooklyn street last Saturday night by plainclothes police officers who claim the youth pointed a .38-caliber revolver at them, while the family says Gray was unarmed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)


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Youth violence shoots up when males are missing from the neighborhood, concluded researchers at the University of Michigan in a new study released last week.

The study centered on Flint, Mich., the former auto manufacturing center that is now one of the most impoverished and violent cities in the country. Researchers broke the city down by zip codes, comparing the number of males in the area to the number of assaults committed by young men.

The results were striking. Researchers found an enormous chunk of the difference between a neighborhood with lots of youth assaults and one with relatively fewer could be explained by “male scarcity.” While a difference of 3 to 5 percent would have been significant, Daniel Kruger of Michigan’s Public Health Department and one of the study’s authors, found that 36 percent of the difference was explained by lack of adult males in the neighborhood. Add one other mammoth variable — high school graduation rates — and you get 69 percent of the variation in assaults committed by young men.

In Flint, Kruger said, the absence of males can be traced to three factors: men who left to look for jobs; young men who have died in gang violence; and men who are incarcerated.

“When we don’t have men as positive role models, we get much higher rates of violence,” Kruger said.

It's a vicious circle, the authors say. When young men get caught up in crime, they are more likely to end up incarcerated, which results in fewer adult males in the community, which leads to more dysfunction.

Sex ratio problems

“It’s classic economics,” Kruger said, “supply and demand,” combined with the historic role that women play in civilizing men. When there are fewer women compared to men, the women have more leverage to get men to commit to stable relationships. “Men think to themselves, ‘If I don’t take her, someone else is going to snap her up, and I’d better treat her well,’” Kruger said.

But when men are scarce, those who remain behind often leverage their own scarcity for shorter term relationships. The early life phase of “mating effort” (characterized by raging hormones) gets frozen in place, and the normal maturation to “parenting effort” (caring for a family) gets delayed or derailed. Men then refuse to commit, seek out additional partners and favor shorter term relationships, Kruger said.

The social maladies of skewed sex ratios are well-documented and not limited to America's urban centers, said Valerie Hudson, who teaches public policy and international relations at Texas A&M University. Her co-authored 2004 book “Bare Branches” studied how China’s one-child policy, combined with cultural chauvinism, produced drastic female scarcity there.

Skewed sex ratios in either direction produce bad outcomes, Hudson said. When men are scarce, they don’t mature from finding sexual or romantic partners to actually being a parent. The resulting hormonal "arrested development," Hudson said, involves more than family relations. It also includes other anti-social behavior, risk-taking, battles between men over honor, face and respect: “Then a lot of them end up in jail, which further depresses the sex ratios, putting all of this on steroids,” Hudson said.

Too many males is not good for women either, Hudson added, pointing to China, but for very different reasons. Families now jealously guard their girls, the marriage age comes down and a chattel market for brides develops along with high suicide rates among young women.

“Meanwhile, only best connected men get married, leaving an underclass of bare branches. Boys are then stuck in the mating profile, with antisocial behavior,” Hudson said.

Wide social impact

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