Politics & Policy

We Depend on Dads

Faithful fathers are important not only for our families, but for our nation's future.

As we celebrate Dear Old Dad this Father’s Day, let’s remember why dependable dads are so important — for our families and for our future as a nation.

Sometimes I’m asked why I’m so concerned about the institution of marriage in this country. After all, isn’t the decision to marry or not — or the matter of what constitutes marriage itself — a private matter, purely of concern to the individual?

Well, the short answer is “No.” If the experience of the last 50 years tells us anything, it is that the consequences of weakening the institution of marriage are tragic for society at large — and especially for the children involved. While the marriage rate has fallen precipitously and the divorce rate has gone through the roof, the percentage of children born out of wedlock increased almost ten-fold during this period.

The nuclear family has had a difficult time in the United States. The number of never-married young adults has grown dramatically. Half of all new marriages now end in divorce. The number of cohabiting couples has grown tenfold since 1970 — now over 5 million. And while out-of-wedlock births have soared to one-third of all U.S. births, the birthrate for married couples has been cut almost in half since 1960.

For the first time in our history, a large number of children have grown up without a father present in the household. That sad fact now makes it commonplace for social scientists to contrast outcomes for those children with their peers in intact families.

By every conceivable measure, children with fathers present in the household fare significantly better on average than their peers without a dad around. According to a summary on the research recently released by the Heritage Foundation, these children tend to fare better in cognitive achievement, exhibit fewer behavioral problems, have better psychological well-being, are less likely to engage in delinquency and substance abuse, are less likely to be incarcerated, and achieve higher levels of educational attainment.

All this is not to say that single moms cannot raise good children. They can, and do so valiantly, every day. But there’s no arguing the fact that, statistically, the tough job of raising a child is easier to do with dad involved.

And we need to get more dads involved, for the sake of their children and for the sake of our nation’s future. More and more children, unfortunately, are victims of broken or single-parent homes. The social costs of this fact are staggering. I think it’s fair to say that most of the social problems we grapple with as a nation have their roots in family breakdown. Whether you are talking about crime, the crisis in education, poverty, illegitimacy, addiction, or other behavior-related public health issues, the correlation with family breakdown — and specifically with father-absence — is abundantly documented in the social-science research.

It’s clear that if we want to get a handle on the growth of government, we have to get a handle on strengthening the family. In large part, this is because family instability increases dependence on government, while family stability reduces it. If family breakdown continues in the United States with the role of fathers in families continuing to decline and weaken, a continuous increase in government spending to address the problems directly associated with the breaking up of the natural family structure is inevitable. If we want to limit the growth and intrusiveness of government, that goal can only be achieved if family, churches, community, and civil society organizations are robust. In short, our political future, our continued economic growth and vitality, and our ability to limit the growth of government will all be determined by whether or not we are able to arrest the breakdown of the family.

The costs to our society are financial as well as social. A recent study by the Institute for American Values concluded that the breakdown of marriage costs taxpayers at least $112 billion each year. Just to put things in perspective, that’s more, on average, than we have spent each year on the war in Iraq.

The evidence is clear: stable marriages, and the commitment of fathers to their families, confer vast benefits on children, adults, and society at large. This Father’s Day, let’s take the opportunity not only to thank dad, but to recommit ourselves as a nation to the family ideal that faithful fathers represent.

– Sam Brownback is a U.S. senator from Kansas.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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