The Father Factor
Data on the Consequences of Father Absence
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes.
Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.
Scroll down to view data on the effects of father absence on: poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity.
Father Factor in Poverty
- Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2011, Table C8. Washington D.C.: 2011.
- In 2008, American poverty rates were 13.2% for the whole population and 19% for children, compared to 28.7% for female-headed households.
Source: Edin, K. & Kissane R. J. (2010). Poverty and the American family: a decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 460-479.
Father Factor in Emotional and Behavioral Problems
- Data from three waves of the Fragile Families Study (N= 2,111) was used to examine the prevalence and effects of mothers’ relationship changes between birth and age 3 on their children’s well being. Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Living in a single-mother household is equivalent to experiencing 5.25 partnership transitions.
Source: Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065-1083
- A sample of 4,027 resident fathers and children from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey was used to investigate the effects of a biological father’s multipartner fertility (having at least one child with more than one mother) on adolescent health. Resident fathers engaging in multipartner fertility were older, more likely to be White, and had lower education levels and income, compared to fathers with one partner. Results indicated children’s externalizing behaviors were negatively affected directly and indirectly when their biological father had children with multiple partners.
Source: Bronte-Tinkew, J., Horowitz, A., & Scott, M. E. (2009). Fathering with multiple partners: Links to children’s well-being in early childhood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 608–631
Father Factor in Maternal and Child Health
- Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
Source: Matthews, T.J., Sally C. Curtin, and Marian F. MacDorman. Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1998 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 12. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2000.
- High-quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.
Source: Carr, D. & Springer, K. W. (2010). Advances in families and health research in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 743-761.
Father Factor in Incarceration
- Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.
Source: Harper, Cynthia C. and Sara S. McLanahan. “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.
- A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately forty-six percent of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail.
Source: James, Doris J. Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002. (NCJ 201932). Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, July 2004.
Father Factor in Crime
- A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency.
Source: Bush, Connee, Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. “Differences in Empathy Between Offender and Nonoffender Youth.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (August 2000): 467-478.
- A study of low-income minority adolescents aged 10-14 years found that higher social encounters and frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased adolescent delinquency.
Source: Coley, R. L., & Medeiros, B. L. (2007). Reciprocal longitudinal relations between nonresident father involvement and adolescent delinquency. Child Development, 78, 132–147.
Father Factor in Teen Pregnancy & Sexual Activity
- Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.
Source: Teachman, Jay D. “The Childhood Living Arrangements of Children and the Characteristics of Their Marriages.” Journal of Family Issues 25 (January 2004): 86-111.
- Separation or frequent changes increase a woman’s risk of early menarche, sexual activity and pregnancy. Women whose parents separated between birth and six years old experienced twice the risk of early menstruation, more than four times the risk of early sexual intercourse, and two and a half times higher risk of early pregnancy when compared to women in intact families. The longer a woman lived with both parents, the lower her risk of early reproductive development. Women who experienced three or more changes in her family environment exhibited similar risks but were five times more likely to have an early pregnancy.
Source: Quinlan, Robert J. “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development.” Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (November 2003): 376-390.
Father Factor in Child Abuse
- A study using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study revealed that in many cases the absence of a biological father contributes to increased risk of child maltreatment. The results suggest that Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies have some justification in viewing the presence of a social father as increasing children’s risk of abuse and neglect. It is believed that in families with a non-biological (social) father figure, there is a higher risk of abuse and neglect to children, despite the social father living in the household or only dating the mother.
Source: “CPS Involvement in Families with Social Fathers.” Fragile Families Research Brief No.46. Princeton, NJ and New York, NY: Bendheim-Thomas Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and Social Indicators Survey Center, 2010.
- In a study examining father-related factors predicting maternal physical child abuse risk, researchers conducted interviews with mothers of 3-year-old children. The results revealed that mothers who were married to fathers were at lower risk for maternal physical child abuse. Moreover, it was found that higher educational attainment and positive father involvement with their children were significant predictors of lower maternal physical child abuse risk.
Source: Guterman, N.B., Yookyong, L., Lee, S. J., Waldfogel, J., & Rathouz, P. J. (2009). Fathers and maternal risk for physical child abuse. Child Maltreatment, 14, 277-290.
Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse
- Even after controlling for community context, there is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father.
Source: Hoffmann, John P. “The Community Context of Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use.” Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (May 2002): 314-330.
- In a study of 6,500 children from the ADDHEALTH database, father closeness was negatively correlated with the number of a child’s friends who smoke, drink, and smoke marijuana. Closeness was also correlated with a child’s use of alcohol, cigarettes, and hard drugs and was connected to family structure. Intact families ranked higher on father closeness than single-parent families.
Source: National Fatherhood Initiative. “Family Structure, Father Closeness, & Drug Abuse.” Gaithersburg, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative, 2004: 20-22.
Father Factor in Childhood Obesity
- The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than are non-obese children.
Source: National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
- In a study using a sample of 2,537 boys and 2,446 girls, researchers investigated the relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) status at ages 4 to 5 years and mothers’ and fathers’ parenting involvement and parenting styles. The results showed that only fathers’ parenting behaviors and styles were associated with increased risks of child overweight and obesity. Mothers’ parenting behaviors and styles were not associated with a higher likelihood of children being in a higher BMI category. In the case of fathers, however, higher father control scores were correlated with lower chances of the child being in a higher BMI category. Moreover, children of fathers with permissive and disengaged parenting styles had higher odds of being in a higher BMI category.
Source: Wake, M., Nicholson, J.M., Hardy, P., & Smith, K. (2007). Preschooler obesity and parenting styles of mothers and fathers: Australian national population study, Pediatrics, 12, 1520-1527.
Father Factor in Education
- Father involvement in schools is associated with the higher likelihood of a student getting mostly A's. This was true for fathers in biological parent families, for stepfathers, and for fathers heading single-parent families.
Source: Nord, Christine Winquist, and Jerry West. Fathers’ and Mothers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools by Family Type and Resident Status. (NCES 2001-032). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001.
- A study assessing 4,109 two-parent families examined the effects of early maternal and paternal depression on child expressive language at age 24 months and the role that parent-to-child reading may play in child’s language development. The results revealed that for mothers and fathers, depressive symptoms were negatively associated with parent-to-child reading. Only for fathers, however, was earlier depression associated with later reading to child and related child expressive vocabulary development. The less the fathers read to their infants, the worse their toddler scored on a standard measure of expressive vocabulary at age two. Parents’ depression has more impact on how often fathers read to their child compared to mothers, which in turn influences the child’s language development.
Source: Paulson, J.F., Keefe, H.A., & Leiferman, J. A. (2009). Early parental depression and child language development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 254–262.
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