By: Vincent Weaver
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blogs on various aspects of why dads matter. To view the first, click here.)
The “traditional” family – the biological mom & dad, along with their kids – has definitely become less common over the last few decades. In the meantime, many other variations of “family” have developed – some that most people would’ve never even dreamed of just one generation ago.
As that demographic change has taken place, many well-meaning people and organizations in our society have down-played the differences between these different family structures. Many have gone so far as to say there’s really no difference between them – that one is as good as the next. (I’m reminded of an episode of “Barney” I saw with my kids years ago that even put this to music. So, let me get this straight – if my parents divorce and my dad moves far away, is my family still “just right for me”?)
(Editor’s note of caution: If you aren’t familiar with “Barney”, you may want to keep it that way. Playing Barney songs and videos can do strange things to you. In fact, American soldiers used this technique as a form of “torture” for Iraqi detainees in the Gulf War – seriously.)
And therein lies the rub – if no particularly family structure is any “better” than any other, then the parents of tomorrow have no structure to strive for. “What difference does it make, after all?” To be sure, there are millions of parents and grandparents out there making heroic efforts to raise their children or grandchildren as best they can, often under circumstances that are not ideal. The point here is NOT to take anything away from those efforts or to diminish them in any way. In fact, we could probably all find ways to be more supportive of these families. (Here are some ideas for doing so.)
Rather, the point is to get the truth out there, for all to be aware of, and speak that truth in love. Below are just some of the downsides to a family structure absent the father. (All of the studies documenting the findings below can be accessed through this link.)
- Children in father-absent homes are more likely to be poor.
- Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.
- Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
- High-quality interaction by any type of father predicts better infant health.
- 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.
- Family structure significantly predicts juvenile delinquency (and that higher social encounters and frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased delinquency).
- Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy.
- 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.
- The absence of a biological father contributes to increased risk of child maltreatment (often by boyfriends of the mom or step-fathers and even by the mother, herself).
- Even after controlling for community context, there is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father.
- The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than are non-obese children.
And it goes on, and on, and on. Family structure DOES make a difference. Dads – your involvement is critical. Yes, it’s hard work, but your family is depending on you. Next time, we’ll look at the positive effects of your involvement, and then some ideas on how to be more active in your children’s lives.