Teenagers in a single-parent household are ‘more likely to engage in criminal behavior’

Teenagers who only live with one of their parents are more likely to exhibit “criminal” behavior – even if there is a stepparent in the home, a new study says.

Academics in Sweden examined studies of 14- and 15-year-olds in different lifestyles, including living with both parents, a single parent and a stepparent.

Some of the youths had committed various offenses, ranging from graffiti to robbing someone and carrying a knife as a weapon.

Teenagers living in households with single father, single mother, father-stepmother and mother-stepfather reported more crime than those living with both their parents, the academics found.

The study’s authors have stressed that having a teenager live with only one of their biological parents does not necessarily mean they are criminals.

As they studied results from Swedish teenagers in a rather narrow age group, further research may be needed.

Teenagers living in single-parent families are more likely to engage in “criminal” behaviors such as shoplifting and graffiti, the study says


Self-reported crime was defined as one of the following committed during the last 12 months:

– Beat someone

– Robbed someone

– Had a knife as a weapon when he went out

– Shoplifting

– Stolen a bicycle

– Stolen something from someone’s pocket or bag

– Stolen something from a car or broke into a car to steal something

– Graffiti

– Injuries

The new study was published this week in the open journal PLOS One by Robert Svensson and Björn Johnson at Malmö University, Sweden.

“This study shows that it is important to move forward with the use of more detailed categorizations of family structure in relation to crime,” they say in their paper.

‘We need to increase our knowledge of the group of young people moving between parents.’

Previous studies have shown that not living with both parents is positively associated with criminal behavior.

However, these have become ‘very simplified’, as they e.g. only compared living with both parents versus not living with both parents.

For the new study, the researchers took into account the broader living conditions of teenagers who did not live with both their parents.

They distinguished between teenagers living in either ‘symmetrical’ or ‘asymmetrical’ family arrangements.

Symmetrical family arrangements are those where both parents are single or both parents have a new partner.

Meanwhile, ‘asymmetric’ family arrangements are those in which either the mother or the father, but not both, have a new partner.

For the study, behaviors defined as criminal ranged in severity from graffiti to robbing someone and carrying a knife as a weapon

For the study, behaviors defined as criminal ranged in severity from graffiti to robbing someone and carrying a knife as a weapon

Researchers used data from four cross-sectional surveys conducted between 2016 and 2019 in southern Sweden, comprising a total of 3,838 teenagers aged 14 to 15 years.

The surveys were conducted at 17 high schools in eight small municipalities in Skåne County, Sweden’s southernmost county, with a population of around 1.4 million.

Data included self-reported information on nine criminal behaviors – including shoplifting, graffiti, robbery and carrying a knife while out of the house – as well as detailed family structure.

Compared to young people living with both their mother and their father, criminal behavior was more common among those living with a single father, a single mother, a father and stepmother, or a mother and stepfather.

Among all participants, teens in symmetrical families – where parents live separately and share custody but both are single or both have new partners – generally reported lower levels of crime than those in asymmetrical families.

However, experts also found that many of the links between family structure and crime declined when adjusting for parental attachment and monitoring data.

Researchers admit that they did not prove causality in their study – in other words, they did not show that certain family structures cause crime and others do not.

Another limitation is that the study sample came from teenagers in only a single Swedish country; further research would ideally include a much larger sample.

Overall, the authors conclude that categorizing family structure may more accurately shed light on the contributing factors in crime.


Girls with single parents are twice as likely to be overweight as their peers, who live in a household with two parents, a 2017 study showed.

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer in Brisbane, Australia found that girls aged 12 to 17 were more likely to eat a less healthy diet in a single-parent home.

It also discovered that these girls tend to ‘spend more time in sedentary behaviors’, which also contributes to the higher risk of obesity.

Low education and avoidance of sports were contributing factors to obesity in all young girls in the young age group, regardless of their housing conditions.

And girls whose parents were not college-educated were significantly more likely to be overweight.

Their risk only increased if they lived in a single-parent household, making them three times more likely to become overweight.

The study showed that junk food, surprisingly, was not a major cause of obesity for young girls.

But junk food and regular takeaway consumption were discovered as the main reasons why boys aged 5 to 11 were overweight.

Ready-made foods or fried foods such as burgers, pizza, sausage rolls and chips were considered “takeaway food” in the research.

The study also showed that boys whose parents did not go to university were twice as likely to be overweight.

And as with girls, the research found that boys who avoided sports were also at risk of gaining too much weight.

The institution in Brisbane investigated the various causes of obesity between young and young boys and girls and examined parents of 3,500 children.

Four percent of girls aged 12 to 17 were found to be overweight, a lower number than both boys in the same age group and girls younger than them.

Seven percent of boys aged 12 to 17 were found to be overweight, five percent lower than boys aged five to 11 years, and four percent lower than girls aged 5 to 11 years.

QIMR Berghofer senior biostatistics professor Peter O’Rourke said more research is needed to find out why girls with single parents are more likely to be overweight.

But he added that parents need to focus on the things they can easily change, such as diet and exercise.

“While some factors are beyond parental control, some of the best things they can do are encourage regular exercise,” he said.

O’Rourke also recommended that parents provide a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables and that they provide fewer takeaway meals at the dinner table.

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