Father Absence

Every child in the United States deserves a mother and a father. Currently, father absence affects the lives of 24 million American children.

Unfortunately, circumstances arise that inhibit this, but we must make a demonstrable effort to connect children with their mothers and fathers as we face an overwhelming number of fatherless families, especially in low income communities. Male role models are necessary and often provide children with needed support, but the bottom line is that every child deserves a dad and mom.

President Obama has been a leader in stressing the importance of fatherhood, giving a particularly encouraging speech this summer. The White House posted both the video and the text of his speech online.

We can all agree that we’ve got too many mothers out there forced to do everything all by themselves.  They’re doing a heroic job, often under trying circumstances.  They deserve a lot of credit for that.  But they shouldn’t have to do it alone.  The work of raising our children is the most important job in this country, and it’s all of our responsibilities — mothers and fathers.  (Applause.)

Now, I can’t legislate fatherhood — I can’t force anybody to love a child.  But what we can do is send a clear message to our fathers that there is no excuse for failing to meet their obligations.  What we can do is make it easier for fathers who make responsible choices and harder for those who avoid those choices.  What we can do is come together and support fathers who are willing to step up and be good partners and parents and providers.

And that’s why today we’re launching the next phase of our work to promote responsible fatherhood — a new, nationwide Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative.  This is a call to action with cities and states, with individuals and organizations across the country — from the NFL Players Association to the National PTA, to everyday moms and dads — we’re raising awareness about responsible fatherhood and working to re-engage absent fathers with their families.

As part of this effort, we’ve proposed a new and expanded Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund.  And we plan to seek out and support the very best, most successful initiatives in our states and communities — those that are offering services like job training, or parenting skills classes, domestic violence prevention — all which help provide the kind of network of support for men, particularly those in vulnerable communities.

We’re also going to help dads who get caught up — we want to make sure that they’re caught up on child support payments and that we re-engage them in their children’s lives.  We’re going to support efforts to build healthy relationships between parents as well — because we know that children benefit not just from loving mothers and loving fathers, but from strong and loving marriages as well.  (Applause.)

We’re also launching a new transitional jobs initiative for ex-offenders and low-income, non-custodial fathers –(applause) — because these are men who often face serious barriers to finding work and keeping work.  We’ll help them develop the skills and experience they need to move into full-time, long-term employment, so they can meet their child support obligations and help provide for their families.

We’ve also been surfing the National Fatherhood Initiative website today, which highlights many problematic effects of father absence.

Why Do Dads Matter?

When dad doesn’t get involved, his children are two to three times more likely to:

  • Engage in drugs, alcohol, violent crimes, and other harmful behaviors
  • Drop out of school
  • Live in poverty
  • Face teenage pregnancy
  • Struggle with depression and even commit suicide

Father Factor in Poverty

  • Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4 percent of children in female-householder families.
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002, P200-547, Table C8. Washington D.C.: GPO, 2003. 

  • During the year before their babies were born, 43% of unmarried mothers received welfare or food stamps, 21% received some type of housing subsidy, and 9% received another type of government transfer (unemployment insurance etc.). For women who have another child, the proportion who receive welfare or food stamps rises to 54%.
    Source: McLanahan, Sara. The Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study: Baseline National Report. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Well-being, 2003: 13. 

  • A child with a nonresident father is 54 percent more likely to be poorer than his or her father.
    Source: Sorenson, Elaine and Chava Zibman. “Getting to Know Poor Fathers Who Do Not Pay Child Support.” Social Service Review 75 (September 2001): 420-434.
  • When compared by family structure, 45.9% of poor single-parent families reported material hardship compared to 38.6% of poor two parent families. For unpoor families who did not experience material hardship, 23.3% were single-parent families compared to 41.2% of two-parent families.
    Source: Beverly, Sondra G., “Material hardship in the United States: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation.” Social Work Research 25 (September 2001): 143-151.3

Father Factor in Maternal and Infant 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.
  • Based on birth and death data for 217,798 children born in Georgia in 1989 and 1990, infants without a father’s name on their birth certificate (17.9 percent of the total) were 2.3 times more likely to die in the first year of life compared to infants with a father’s name on their birth certificate.
    Source: Gaudino, Jr., James A., Bill Jenkins, and Foger W. Rochat. “No Fathers’ Names: A Risk Factor for Infant Mortality in the State of Georgia, USA.” Social Science and Medicine 48 (1999): 253-265.
  • Unmarried mothers are less likely to obtain prenatal care and more likely to have a low birth-weight baby. Researchers find that these negative effects persist even when they take into account factors, such as parental education, that often distinguish single-parent from two-parent families.
    Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing. Hyattsville, MD (Sept. 1995): 12.
  • A study of 3,400 middle schoolers indicated that not living with both biological parents quadruples the risk of having an affective disorder.
    Source: Cuffe, Steven P., Robert E. McKeown, Cheryl L. Addy, and Carol Z. Garrison. “Family Psychosocial Risk Factors in a Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Adolescents.” Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry 44 (February 2005): 121-129.
  • Children who live apart from their fathers are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and experience an asthma-related emergency even after taking into account demographic and socioeconomic conditions. Unmarried, cohabiting parents and unmarried parents living apart are 1.76 and 2.61 times, respectively, more likely to have their child diagnosed with asthma. Marital disruption after birth is associated with a 6-fold increase in the likelihood a children will require an emergency room visit and 5-fold increase of an asthma-related emergency.
    Source: Harknett, Kristin. Children’s Elevated Risk of Asthma in Unmarried Families: Underlying Structural and Behavioral Mechanisms. Working Paper #2005-01-FF. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Well-being, 2005: 19-27.

Father Factor in Education

  • Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.
    Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics. Survey on Child Health. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1993.
  • 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.
  • Students living in father-absent homes are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school; 10 percent of children living with both parents have ever repeated a grade, compared to 20 percent of children in stepfather families and 18 percent in mother-only 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.

Father Factor in Child Abuse

  • Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect.
    Source: America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Table SPECIAL1. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997.
  • The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000.
    Source: America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Table SPECIAL1. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997.

Father Factor in 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. 

  • Separation or frequent changes increase a woman’s risk of early menarche, sexual activity and pregnancy. Women whose parents separated between birth and six years old experienced twice the risk of early menstruation, more than four times the risk of early sexual intercourse, and two and a half times higher risk of early pregnancy when compared to women in intact families. The longer a woman lived with both parents, the lower her risk of early reproductive development. Women who experienced three or more changes in her family environment exhibited similar risks but were five times more likely to have an early pregnancy.
    Source: Quinlan, Robert J. “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development.” Evolution and Human Behavior 24 (November 2003): 376-390. 

  • 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.
    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.

Father Factor in Crime

  • 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.
  • Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk.
    Source: Anderson, Amy L. “Individual and contextual influences on delinquency: the role of the single-parent family.” Journal of Criminal Justice 30 (November 2002): 575-587.
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