A new analysis from Pew using data from the stellar National Survey of Family Growth brings a small bit of good news on the fatherhood front, but also some very bad news.
The bad news: More children are living without the tremendous advantage of having daily access to their fathers in the home.
The good news: Of those who do have a father in their home, their dads are 2.5 times more likely to be closely involved in their children’s care than live-in fathers were in the 1960s.
But this is little consolation against the very dark cloud of fatherlessness — 21 percent of white fathers, 44 percent of black fathers, and 35 percent of Hispanic fathers live apart from their children. Twenty-seven percent of absent fathers say they have not seen their children even once in the past year.
And fatherlessness marks a distinct class divide, as 40 percent of fathers who never completed high school live apart from their children, while only 7 percent of fathers who graduated from college do.
While it is well known how important a father’s involvement is to healthy child development, a very interesting and lesser known finding comes from a 26-year longitudinal study which says that the strongest factor indicating whether children practiced high levels of empathic concern for others in their adult years was whether they had an involved father in their life. In fact, father care was a stronger indicator here than the three strongest maternal factors combined! The study explained, “These results appear to fit with previous findings indicating that pro-social behaviors such as altruism and generosity in children were related to active involvement in child care by fathers.”
Fathers matter in many unlikely ways. And when fewer children have less access to their fathers, that matters for the children, and it matters for all of us.
— Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family. He is also author of the recent book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity.