The Father Factor

First Things First: Do fathers really make a difference?

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Jul 5, 2018



If you watch almost any show on television that involves a father these days, it's common to see a dad who is portrayed as an idiot when it comes to his children and family. In real life, many men have been told straight up: You don't really parent; you babysit.

It is estimated that people spent more than $15 billion celebrating dad this past Father's Day. Why all the celebration if dads really don't make that much of a difference in the lives of children?

In an article for the Institute for Family Studies, Dr. William Jeynes, Harvard graduate and professor at California State University, Long Beach, highlights his recent meta-analysis of 34 studies regarding the unique role fathers play in child-rearing. He found statistically significant effects between good fathering and a number of outcomes for both boys and girls.

Jeynes looked at whether fathers make a unique contribution in raising children compared to moms. The meta-analysis included 37,300 subjects. In the study, Jeynes and his team defined the unique fatherhood contribution as paternal monitoring, involvement and child-rearing activities that can be distinguished from activities undertaken by the mother, another guardian, relative or caregiver.

A clear theme emerged: While mothers were often shown as the more nurturing parent, fathers appeared to be more involved in preparing children to deal with life. Fathers also seemed to more realistically assess their children's future behavior problems. In some cases, fathers were better predictors of their child's future cognitive performance than moms were.

Jeynes also found that father involvement or monitoring was associated with lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse among boys and girls. That's in addition to students performing better in school and having better attitudes while in school.

While the analysis showed mothers consistently demonstrated higher average levels of patience and nurturing than fathers, fathers tended to expect more of their children and placed greater emphasis on the preparatory aspect of child-rearing more so than mothers. Results also suggest that there is often a balance established when the unique role of the father is combined with the distinct role of the mother.

According to Jeynes' analysis, the importance of fathering is undeniable, and father involvement is greatly connected to family structure. He also asserts that father engagement is best facilitated in two-parent families, mainly because single-parent families tend to be headed by mothers.

Jeynes also cites a 2015 article appearing in Education Next, indicating that children living in two-parent families consistently receive more schooling than those in single-parent families, with the gap increasing over time.

Additionally, statistical analyses of nationwide data sets show that, on average, children raised by their biological parents in intact married families academically outperformed their counterparts who lived in cohabiting families and never-married, single-parent families.

Coming from a two-parent, intact family helps kids experience high levels of mother and father engagement, although it does not guarantee that mothers and fathers will be involved. Nevertheless, the changing makeup in family structure in recent decades has ultimately made father involvement more difficult.

Jeynes offers these thoughts based on his research outcomes: One of the most child-sensitive and family-sensitive actions one can take is to develop a greater appreciation of the value of fatherhood. And it is not only unwise to diminish the salience of fathers; it is mindless to do so. Moreover, it is blatantly unkind to America's children to detract from a vital parental role for their future fulfillment. To be truly pro-child is to be pro-father.

Don't underestimate the role fathers play in raising children to be successful adults. If you want to model being pro-child and pro-father, here are some things you can do.

  • If you're a mom, encourage positive male role model involvement in your child's life.
  • If you're a non-residential dad, visit with your children as often as possible. Avoid making promises you can't keep. Be intentional about teaching them important life lessons.
  • If you are an educator, encourage fathers to be active in the classroom.
  • Be a positive male role model for the kids in your community.
  • Faith-based institutions and programs can bring fathers together with their children. Encourage healthy and appropriate male role models to engage children in their sphere of influence.
  • If you're a business leader, encourage employee participation in community efforts with children. For example, promote mentoring with organizations like Big Brothers-Big Sisters, youth groups, Boys and Girls Club or Girls Inc.

There is no denying that a healthy father positively impacts his child's life and that father absence dramatically affects a child's ability to thrive throughout life.

julie-baumgardnerThis article originally appeared on and was reposted with permission from Julie Baumgardner. She is the president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Contact her at

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Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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