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The Proof Is In: Father Absence Harms Children

There is a father absence crisis in America.
According to the U.S. census bureau, 24 million children, 1 out of 3, live without their biological father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.



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The Positive Impact of Father Involvement

Many people believe that family structure doesn’t really matter, as long as children are cared for and loved by someone, anyone. However, new research on father absence shows that old adage, “correlation does not imply causation,” does not apply to the effects of father absence on children. In other words, for many of our most intractable social ills affecting children, father absence is to blame.

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Source: McLanahan, S., Tach, L., & Schneider, D. (2013). The causal effects of father absence. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 399-427.

There is s Father Factor in Our Nation's Worst Social Problems

In America, 23.6% of children lived in father-absent homes in 2014. Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the societal issues facing America today. We must realize there is a father absence crisis in America and begin to raise more involved, responsible, and committed fathers. 

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2015). 

State-Level Data on Father Absence

Mississippi has the highest number of children living in father absent homes (36.2%) followed by Louisiana (34.4%) and Alabama (30.7%). 

The three states with the lowest rates of father absence are...Utah (11.5%), North Dakota (14.4%), and Idaho (16%). 

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2013).

The Father Factor in Poverty

In 2011, children living in female-headed homes with no spouse present had a poverty rate of 47.6%.
This is over four times the rate for children living in married couple families. Additionally, Children living in female-headed homes with no spouse present have a poverty rate of 47.6% - over four times the rate of children living in married couple families. 

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2012). Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data. Retrieved from: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/12/PovertyAndIncomeEst/ib.cfm

The 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.

The 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. Additionally, individuals from father absent homes are 279% more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than peers living with their fathers. 

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Source: Hoffmann, John P. “The Community Context of Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use.” Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (May 2002): 314-330.

Source: Allen, A.N., & Lo, C.C. (2012). Drugs, guns, and disadvantaged youths: Co-occuring behavior and the code of the street. Crime & Delinquency, 58, 932-953.

The 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. Additionally, students living in father-absent homes are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school. 

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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.

The 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. Additionally, 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. 

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Source: Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065-1083.


The Father Factor in Crime

A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Additionally, adolescent boys with absent fathers are more likely to engage in delinquency than those who are present. 

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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.

Source: from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Cobb-Clark, D.A., & Tekin, E. (2014). 

The Father Factor in Incarceration

92% of parents in prison are fathers, and between 1991 and 2007 the number of children with an incarcerated father grew 79%. 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.

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Source: Harper, Cynthia C. & Sara S. McLanahan. “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369-397.

Source: Glaze, L.E., & Maruschak, L.M. (2010). Parents in prison and their minor children. Washtington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

The Father Factor in Maternal & Child Health

Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers. Compared to pregnant women without father support, pregnant women with father support experience a lower prevalence of pregnancy loss 22.2% compared to 48.1%. Allowing new fathers to be involved in caring for their child in the first days of a child's life can have positive long-term benefits. 

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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

Source: Shah, M., Gee, R., & Theall, K. (2014). Partner support and impact on birth outcomes among teen pregnancies in the United States. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 27, 14-19.

Source: Anthes, E. (2010, May/June). Family guy. Scientific American Mind. 

The 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. 

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Source: National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

The Father Factor in Adolescence

Researchers using a pool from both the U.S. and New Zealand found strong evidence that father absence has an effect on early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy. Teens without fathers were twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to get pregnant as an adolescent. 

Additionally, adolescents in single-mother and single-father families are at higher risk of risky behaviors, victimization, and mental distress compared to those in two-parent families. 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. However, higher quality father-daughter relationships are a protective factor against engagement in risky sexual behaviors. 

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Source: Ellis, Bruce J., John E. Bates, Kenneth A. Dodge, David M. Ferguson, L. John Horwood, Gregory S. Pettit, and Lianne Woodward. “Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy.” Child Development 74 (May/June 2003): 801-821.

Source: Jablonska, B., & Lindberg, L. (2007). Risk behaviours, victimization and mental distress among adolescents in different family structures. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 42, 656-663.

Source: Ellis, B.J., Schlomer, G.L., Tilley, E.H., & Butler, E.A. (2012). 

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.

The Father Factor in Pregnancy

The Father Factor in Risky Behavior

The Father Factor in Child Development

The Father Factor in Toddler Happiness

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