The Proof Is In: Father Absence Harms Children

NFI began publishing fatherhood research in the early 1990s. From a one-page fact sheet to the 122-page volume of Father Facts 7 we have today, research proves that children need good dads.

The data on this page provide a snapshot of how important dads are to children's well-being. Use these data in grant proposals, to provide media with statistics on father absence, to inform your local and state legislators about the importance of this issue, and so much more. We also encourage you to share these data with your staff to get them on board with the importance of engaging dads. This page, along with our Father Facts 7 publication, contains the research you need to promote involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood to anyone in any setting.

Get More Research on Father Absence and Involvement in Father Facts 7 > 


The Proof Is In: Father Absence Harms Children


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. 

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


There is a “Father Factor” in Our Nation’s Worst Social Problems


In America, 23.6% of children lived in father-absent homes in 2014. 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2015).

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.

Get More Research on the Father Factor in Father Facts 7 > 

The Positive Impact of Father Involvement


Positive_Impact_Icon.pngIn 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.

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FF7_StateData_500px.jpgState-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%).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2013). 





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

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.

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:



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).


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The Father Factor in Child Abuse

Abuse_IconA 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.

More Research on Father Absence + Child Abuse in Father Facts 7 >

The Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Addiction_IconEven 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.


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

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.

Get More Research on Father Absence + Drug/Alcohol Abuse in Father Facts 7 >

The Father Factor in Education

Drop_Out_IconFather 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.

Students living in father-absent homes are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school. 

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.

More Research on Father Absence + Education in Father Facts 7 >

The Father Factor in Emotional and Behavioral Problems

Emotional_IconData 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.

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The Father Factor in Crime

Crime_iconA 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.



Adolescent boys with absent fathers are more likely to engage in delinquency than those who are present.

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

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The Father Factor in Incarceration

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




92% of parents in prison are fathers.

Source: Glaze, L.E., & Maruschak, L.M. (2010).





The number of children with an incarcerated father grew 79% between 1991 and 2007.

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

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The Father Factor in Maternal & Child Health

Maternal_Child_Health_IconInfant 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.



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%.

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.





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.

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


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The Father Factor in Adolescence

Pregnancy_IconResearchers 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.

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.



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.  

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.




Higher quality father-daughter relationships is a protective factor against engagement in risky sexual behaviors.

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

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.

More Research on Father Absence + Adolescence in Father Facts 7 >

The Father Factor in Childhood Obesity

Obesity_IconThe 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.

More Research on Father Absence + Childhood Obesity in Father Facts 7 >