Why Fatherhood Matters

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As you explore our website and learn more about NFI, you will likely ask the question, "Why Does Fatherhood Matter?" The answer is simple, though not always obvious.

Our work in communities across America, our own research, and research that we follow, all tell us that underlying many of society's most pressing challenges today is the lack of involvement by fathers in their children's lives.

Consider the Facts as They Relate to Today's Challenges

The Positive Impact of Father Involvement

In a study examining father involvement with 134 children of adolescent mothers over the first 10 years of life, researchers found that father-child contact was associated with better socio-emotional and academic functioning. The results indicated that children with more involved fathers experienced fewer behavioral problems and scored higher on reading achievement. This study showed the significance of the role of fathers in the lives of at-risk children, even in case of nonresident fathers.

Source: Howard, K. S., Burke Lefever, J. E., Borkowski, J.G., & Whitman , T. L. (2006). Fathers’ influence in the lives of children with adolescent mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 468- 476.

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.

Emotional and Behavioral Issues

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

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.

Crime and Incarceration Rates

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.

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.

Teen Pregnancy

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.

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.

Alcohol and Substance 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.

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

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.

How do We Respond?

National Fatherhood Initiative® provides the highest quality and widest range of fatherhood skill-building printed material, workshop and curriculum kits, training, and technical assistance available. By supporting you, supporting fathers and supporting families; NFI strives to create a world in which every child has a 24/7 dad.

Our experienced staff consults with Community-Based Groups, Corrections Agencies and Facilities, the Military and State and Local Agencies to help them implement fatherhood programming, and reach community and societal goals. We also provide research-based insights and parenting tips to fathers and families through our website.

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