According to Joe Biden (at about 1:11:00 in the Cspan video; see also the transcript; 18 November 1993, emphasis added):

We must take back the streets. It doesn't matter whether or not the person that is accosting your son or daughter or my son or daughter, my wife, your husband, my mother, your parents, it doesn't matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth, it doesn't matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become -- become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn't matter whether or not they are the victims of society. The end result is they are about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons. So I don't want to ask what made them do this? They must be taken off the street...

Unless we do something about that cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally ... they will or a portion of them will become the predators 15 years from now. And madam president, we have predators on our streets.

Is it true that children born of out of wedlock have a higher likelihood of becoming predators?

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    I don't interpret that quote as claiming that "children born out of wedlock" become predators. It appears to be claiming that "children born out of wedlock without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing" become predators.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 30 at 17:39
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    @Mark would there be “tens of thousands” of them under that interpretation? And how can someone be born without parents?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jun 30 at 17:50
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    I think it means that parents who do not take an active part in their children's live and help raise them
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 30 at 18:08
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    @JoeW yes, I think he's saying that's another factor, that out of wedlock parents increase the chances of being a predator and uninvolved parents increase the chances, And that these factors tend to prevent any conscience from developing, thereby bringing about predators.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jun 30 at 18:30
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    It might help if you add context that this was from 1993. Commented Jun 30 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


As comments have discussed, there is a lot that is vague or ambiguous about the claim.

If we interpret the claim generously and ask whether a low level of parental engagement is one contributing risk factor to violent crime in adulthood then, sure, there is some evidence to support this. But presenting it as the primary risk factor is a gross oversimplification, and it's unclear to what extent the correlation is causation or proxy for other things.

Here is a 2018 study where the authors state:

Results indicate that by 2 to 3 years of age, for urban, ethnically diverse boys, we can reliably identify predictors of violent behavior during early adulthood. Specifically, when compared to those with no arrest records, boys later arrested for violent behavior were more likely to demonstrate high levels of oppositional behavior, poor emotion-regulation skills, low levels of family income and quality care in the home during early childhood, and be African American versus European American. In addition, early individual differences in emotion regulation distinguished those arrested for violent criminal behavior from those with nonviolent arrest records.

It is important to note here that the correlation between "home environment quality" and violent crimes committed later in life was similar to household income and nearly half that of racial minority status.

There are not many studies as directly relevant to the claim as the one above, weighing the relative effects of different factors. But in terms of family life being a factor, at least in tetms.of correlation, there is no shortage of evidence. For some older surveys of relevant research there are reports from the DOJ (which is careful not to overstate the evidence) and The Heritage Foundation (which cherry-picks the evidence most favorable to Biden's interpretation).

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    The biggest common factor among prison inmates versus the general population is that they didn't grow up in a home with a father. Saying "born out of wedlock" is a figure of speech describing such people. Commented Jul 1 at 0:57
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    @RayButterworth Being born out of wedlock (or growing up with a single mum) has a high correlation with growing up with low socio-economic status and low income. Both of which have a high correlation with being imprisoned later in life. After you correct for income differences, I'm not sure whether any correlation between criminal career and parental marital status remains.
    – quarague
    Commented Jul 1 at 7:24
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    This is known as the "Cycle of Poverty" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_of_poverty Commented Jul 1 at 10:08

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