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Father Absence | Father Presence/Father Involvement | References | Copyright

Fathers' Involvement in Children's Lives:
How Dads Impact Risk and Protective Factors For Healthy Child Development

by Blair and Craig Brooke-Weiss

Research around the importance of fathers in children's lives is based in two broad areas of investigation: family structure and father involvement. Family structure studies focus on children in divorced or single-parent families or not living with their biological father, and analysis of how these children fare in comparison to children living with two-parent families on a variety of indices. These studies are by far the most common. Father involvement is more difficult to examine for a variety of reasons -- however there is a growing body of research in psychology and in child development that attempts to determine diferent types of father involvement and the effects that involvement has on the quality of life for the man's children.

Father Absence

Risk/Protective Factor Statistic/Research Finding Source
Vulnerability to Illness Children who live apart from their biological father had:
  · 20-30% higher health vulnerability rations and
  · 50% higher incidence of asthma
1988 National Health Interview Survey (Dawson 1991)
(17,110 children in national sample)
Higher Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs At 15 Years, children in the study who did not live with their natural fathers were 4.3 times more likely to smoke. This was the strongest association seen in a multivariate analysis which included many other variables including residence, mobility, ethnicity, SES, family size, etc. 18 year longitudinal study of all newborns in the one hospital for a town in New Zealand.
(Stanton, Oci & Silva, 1994)
Parental (usually father) absence was significantly linked to increased use of AOD among adolescents in 7 studies from the 1970's. "The composition of the family has been found to have a significant relationship to adolescent substance abuse." Review of literature, 1972-86
(Denton & Kampfe 1994, p.480)
Children in father-absent families had higher risk of drug and alcohol use. 1993 U.S. DHHS Child Health Survey*
Educational Problems Children not living with their biological father were:
  · 40% more likely to repeat a grade
  · 70% more likely to be expelled
1988 National Health Interview Survey (Dawson 1991)
Children without a father or with stepfathers were twice as likely to have repeated a grade or been suspended from school. 1994 Child Trends, Inc. report, pg. 52. Data source was the 1993 National Household Education Survey.
Children in single parent homes:
  · Scored lower on standardized tests
  · Were more likely to drop out
1988 study to follow up on 1980 sphomore class (Stedman et al 1988)*
Children living with both biological parents at age 14 were significantly more likely to graduate from high school 5 years later. "Individuals who live apart from one or both parents when they are growing up are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to work at low-wage jobs, and more likely to form unstable families themselves." (p. 103) Sandefur, McLanahan and Wojkiewicz, 1992, (p. 103) using data from the 1979-85 National Logitudinal Survey of Youth. Multivariate analysis examining family structure. Controlled for income and psychological characteristics.
Suicide Children in father-absent families have dramatically greater risk of suicide. 1993 Survey of Child Health*
Emotional/Behavioral Problems Children in single parent families were 2-3 times more likely to have been treated for emotional and/or behavioral problems. 1988 National Health Interview Survey (Dawson, 1991)
Elementary school children who showed violent behavior were 11 timmes as likely to not live with their fathers as non-violent matched controls. The fathers/male guardians of the violent children were "significantly more likely to never show them physical affection and never to express pride in or affection for them." Study in American Journal of Public Health (Sheline, Skipper and Broadhead 1994). Case control study of 2-5 graders in one elementary school in new Mexico. Study sample included all violent children in these grades, and each case was matched with two similar but non-violent children from the same classroom.
Problems with peer relationships Signigicant association: kids rejected by their peers were more likely to have experienced a parental divorce. 1993 retrospective study of 270 5th and 6th graders (Baker et al 1993)
Students without fathers and/or with stepfathers were:
  · Less likely to have peers who thought it important to behave well in school
  · Less likely to have friends who think it's important to work hard for good grades.
1994 Child Trends, Inc. report, pg. 52. Data source was the 1993 National Household Education Survey.
Crime and Incarceration "The relationship [between family structure and crime is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up again and again in the literature." Kamarck and Galston, 1990. Policy paper. Reviewed broad body of research and discussed its implications.
"Family disorganization is consistently and positively related to area crime rates, and this relationship remains when other eological characteristics [like poverty and race] are included as controls." Smith and Jarjoura, "Social Structure and Criminal Victimization," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 25, No. 1, Feb 1988, pp 27-52. Quote p. 36.
Multivariate analysis (controlling for race, welfare status, and low income neighborhood status) found that "having no father present has significant detrimental effects on the accumulated work experience of young men as well as a significant effect on the probability of jail, particularly among black men." Hill and O'Neill, 1993. Basic data source National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1970 and 1987. Also used 1980 Census data by zip code, and measures of economy such as welfare benefits levels, prevailing wage rate and unemployment rate in State of youth's residence.
70% of juveniles in state reform in 1988 grew up in single parent or no-parent homes. By contrast, census estimates show that, in 1986, 74% of jeveniles not in correctional institutions WERE living with both parents. 1987 Survey of Youth in Custody, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (Beck, Line and Greenfield, 1988). Retrospective study. Nationally representative sample of 2,621 residents in state-run juvenile reform institutions.
Poverty Numerous demographic studies show that children raised in families without fathers are at extremely increased risk of living and growing up in poverty. U.S. Bureau of the Census

Father Presence/Father Involvement

Risk/Protective Factor Statistic/Research Finding Source
Better School Performance Children with fathers who are involved in their schools are:
  · More likely to get mostly A's
  · Less likely to repeat a grade
  · Less likely to be expelled
(this included kids in two-parent familes as well as those where the non-residential father was involved)
National Household Educational Survey 1996 (surveyed 20,792 children and their parents in antional sample)
Attachment to School Children with involved fathers were more likely to:
  · enjoy school
  · engage in extracurricular activities
(this included kids in two-parent families as well as those where the non-residential father was involved).
National Household Educational survey 1996
Staying Out of Trouble Even in high crime neighborhoods, 90% of kids from safe, stable two parent homes do not be delinquents. *Richters and Martinez, "Violent communities family choices, and children's chances: An algorithm for improving the odds," Development and Psychopathology, 5 (1993), 609-627
Delayed Sexual Activity "Adolescent girls reared without fathers are much more likely to be sexually active compared with girls raised in two-parent families." *Newcomer and Udry, "Parental Marital Status Effects on Adolescent Sexual Behavior," Journal of Marriage and the Family (May 1987): 235-240
"Adolescent females between 15 and 19 years reared in homes without fathers are significantly more likely to engage in premarital sex than adolescent females reared in homes with both a mother and a father." *Billy, Brewster and Grady, "Contextual Effects on the Sexual Behavior of Adolescent Women," Journal of Marriage and Family, 56 (1994): 381-404.
Fewer Teen Pregnancies "Daughters of single parents are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 111% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% morelikely to have a premarital birth, and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages." *Garfinkel and McLanahan, Single Mothers and Their Children, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 1989.


Baker, Barthelemy and Kurdek, "The Relation Between Fifth and Sixth Graders' Peer-Related Classroom Social Status and Their Perceptions of Family and Neighborhood Factors," Journal of Applied Devleopmental Psychology, Vol. 14, 547-556, 1993.

Beck, Kline and Greenfield, "Survey of Youth in Custody, 1987," Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, U.S. Department of Justice, Spectember 1988.

Dawson, "Family Structure and Children's Health and Well-being: Data from the National Health Interview Survey on Child Health," Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 53.

Denton and Kampfe, "The Relationship Between Family Variables and Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Literature Review," Adolescence, Vol. 29, No. 114, Summer 1994.

Hill and O'Neill, Underclass Behaviors in the United States: Measurements and Anlysis of Determinants, City University of New York, Baruch College 1993.

*Horn, et. al., Father Facts 2 Revised Edition, The National Fatherhood Initiative, Lancaster, PA. Not dated. Studies shown with an * in the table were quoted in this publication; however, the original studies were inaccessible at the time of this report.

Kamarck and Galston, Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990's, Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, DC, Sept 1990, pg 15-16.

Nord, Brimhall and West, "Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's Schools," National Household Education Survey, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, October 1997.

Sandefur, McLanahan and Wojtkiewicz, "The Effects of Parental Marital Status during Adolescence on High School Graduation," Social Forces, University of North Carolina Press, September 1992, 71(1): 103-121.

Sheline, Skipper and Broadhead, "Risk Factors for Violent Behavior in Elementary School Boys: Have You Hugged Your Child Today?" American Journal of Public Health, April 1994, Vol. 84, No. 4, pp 661-663.

Smith and Jarjoura, "Social Structure and Criminal Victimization," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 25 No. 1, February 1988; 27-52.

Stanton, Oei and Silva, "Sociodemographic Characteristics of Adolescent Smokers," The International Journal of the Addictions, 29(7), 913-925, 1994.

Copyright © 1999 Blair and Craig Brooke-Weiss

Father Absence | Father Presence/Father Involvement | References | Copyright


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