1 in 4 U.S. Children Live Without Fathers: Social Impacts
Among the numerous crises in different fields in the U.S., there’s one that seems to be unreasonably ignored: the crisis of fatherhood. According to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, over 27% of children (more than 1 in 4) in the U.S. lived without a father in their home in 2017. Meanwhile, it is the absence of a father that causes social problems such as poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, physical abuse, suicide, substance and alcohol abuse, and a host of other troubling social problems. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.
“More children will go to sleep tonight in a fatherless home than ever in the nation’s history,” TIME declared in a cover story on fatherhood that hit newsstands for Father’s Day 1993, amid increased public awareness of this situation.
“Talk to the experts in crime, drug abuse, depression, school failure, and they can point to some study somewhere blaming those problems on the disappearance of fathers from the American family. But talk to the fathers who do stay with their families, and the story grows more complicated. What they are hearing, from their bosses, from institutions, from the culture around them, even from their own wives, very often comes down to a devastating message: We don’t really trust men to be parents, and we don’t really need them to be.”
Apparently, the message got through: The share of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, jumping from 13% (9 million children in total, 8 million of them living with a single mother) to 32% in 2017. That trend has been accompanied by a drop in the share of children living with two married parents, down from 85% in 1968 to 65%, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
As for today, more than 20 million children live in a fatherless household.
The epidemic of fatherlessness is worse in many major cities. In places like Baltimore, the statistics indicate that over 70% of families are fatherless.
The National Center for Fathering reported: “If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.”
A father’s influence has many factors on a child’s life, noted Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. Children benefit from having their fathers involved in their lives.
Longstanding research by the Congressional Research Service indicates that children raised in one-parent homes are more likely than children raised in homes with both biological parents to do poorly in school, have emotional and behavioral problems, become teenage parents, and have poverty-level incomes as adults.
The National Fatherhood Initiative provides the following statistics for children raised in a father-absent home, alleging they are:
- Almost four times more likely to be poor (U.S. Census Bureau)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44% of children in mother-only families. Children living in female-headed families with no spouse present had a poverty rate of 47.6%, over 4 times the rate in married-couple families.
- Seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen
Teens without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to get pregnant as an adolescent, according to the Child Development Journal.
- More likely to have behavioral problems
A study of 1,977 children age 3 and older living with a residential father or father figure found that children living with married biological parents had significantly fewer externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems than children living with at least one non-biological parent.
- More likely to commit crime
Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families are three times as likely to end up in the juvenile justice system as sons with attentive fathers. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. In 2012, The Atlantic noted that up to 87% of incarcerated juveniles in Wisconsin grew up in a single parent home.
- Two times more likely to drop out of high school
Psychology Today reports that children with absent fathers are more likely to drop out of school, become truant, or struggle with their academic work. All of these factors make it harder for children to achieve success in later life.
- Two times more likely to suffer obesity
Fathers who get more involved in raising their children help to lower their children’s risk of obesity, a 2017 study suggests. Increases in fatherly participation in physical childcare (such as bathing and dressing children) and in the frequency with which they took their children outside for walks and playtime were linked with a decreased likelihood of obesity in their young children. The findings suggest that encouraging fathers to increase their involvement with raising children and including fathers in childhood obesity prevention efforts may help reduce obesity risk among young children.
- More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”
- Two times more likely to commit suicide
According to WebMD, the suicide rate for children who live in single-parent homes is double compared to that of children in two-parent households.
“America is awash in poverty, crime, drugs, and other problems, but more than perhaps anything else, it all comes down to this: deal with absent fathers, and the rest follows,” said Vincent DiCario, the Vice President of the National Fatherhood Initiative.