Research - fatherhood - Why Dads matter
On Mother's Day the most phone calls are made. On Father's
Day the most collect phone calls are made.
We still think of dads as wallets-or as deadbeats if they
fail to be wallets-- but reality is changing faster than the
image. In the last twenty years the percentageof single dads
has more than doubled, from 10% to 23% of all single-parent
households. Almost one in four. Moms moving out of the home
has been a headline-creating revolution; dads moving into
the home has been the quietest revolution. Without the headlines,
we miss the revolution. A case in point…
I am in Toronto during a Canadian tour for my book, Father
and Child Reunion. A TV reporter and the cameraman are debating
whether to interview me inside or out. I suggest going to
a park, finding some dads, and having me comment on the differences
in parenting styles. "Great idea", the reporter
begins supportively, "but in the middle of a work morning,
I doubt we'll find any dads".
I convince her to try. We are both surprised. There are about
25 caretakers at the playground…about equal numbers
of fathers, nannies, and mothers. Turns out the reporter had
passed the playground… but missed the revolution.
Just as the last third of the twentieth century was about
women becoming more equal partners in the workplace, so the
first third of the twenty-first century will be about men
becoming more equal partners in the family. The evidence is
in the next generation. A 2000 Harris Poll found that "young
men in their twenties are seven percent more likely than young
women to give up pay for more time with their families."
A full 70% of men vs. 63% of women. Give up pay? Men? A generational
shift without precedent.
Dads are, if you will, in the infancy of their revolution
to re-enter the family, this time not only as money raisers,
but also as child raisers. Not to out-do mom, but to do with
mom. In fact, it is improbable that mothers will make much
more progress in the workplace without dads sharing more responsibilities
in the homeplace.
What are the contributions dads make to our children's lives?
Start with girls' legendary difficulty with math and boys'
difficulty with verbal skills. In the area of math and quantitative
abilities, the more involved the dad is, the better both daughters
and sons do. Ditto for boys' increase in verbal intelligence.
And the amount of time a father spends reading to his daughter
is a strong predictor of his daughter's future verbal ability.
So both sexes improve in both sets of skills when fathers
are more involved.
And when the children grow up? Women who grow up successful
in their professions tend to have two things in common: fathers
who respect and encourage them; and male mentors.
Suppose a mom has to choose between income and dad? I just
finished doing expert witness testimony with a couple in which
the mom was arguing that her moving the children out-of-state
was fine because the children would be going to a better school
and have more financial security with her new husband. We
know, now, though, that father involvement is more important
than either the quality of the school or the amount of money
a family has. That is, children from good schools whose dads
are not involved in their everyday lives do worse than children
in poorer schools whose dads are involved-they do worse academically,
socially and psychologically. Similarly, children from wealthier
homes without dad do not do as well as children from poorer
homes with dads. The specific act of moving a child away from
the non-custodial parent accounts for 60% of the damage experienced
by a child living without the other parent.
The implications of father involvement for social policy are
staggering. We think of poverty as a major cause of vilent
crime. Yet when children in homes with more income are compared
to the children in homes with less income, there is no difference
in the rates of violent crime if both are living with fathers.
Poverty is highly correlated with violent crime because poverty
is highly correlated with fatherlessness. The more dad is
present, the more violent crime is absent. In brief, fathers
stop violent crime; money doesn't.
In a study of teenage mothers in inner city Baltimore, one-third
of their daughters also became teenage mothers. But, not one
daughter or son who had a good relationship with her or his
biological father had a baby before the age of nineteen. Connection
with dad leads not only to preventing daughters from becoming
pregnant prematurely, but also to preventing sons from creating
Ninety percent of homeless or runaway children are from fatherless
homes. Father presence is the most important factor by far
in preventing drug abuse (not drug use, but drug abuse). Overall,
a close relationship with dad is the most important preventive
medicine to avoid the cancer of a troubled childhood.
At what age does dad's influence begin? An Israeli study found
that the more frequently a father visited the hospital of
an infant who is prematurely born, the more rapidly the infant
gained weight and the more quickly the infant was able to
leave the hospital. U.S. studies show that by the age of six
months, the more children have contact with dad, the higher
their levels of mental competence and psycho-motor functioning,
and the greater their level of trust and friendliness.
There are, however, many types of dads. Until recently we
have known little about stepdads and single dads.
Stepdads make us think. If parenting emerges from a maternal
instinct, why is it that a full 85% of stepparents are stepdads?
If men are selfish and territorial, why do they give love,
time and often money to children who are not "theirs".
Stepdads usually deal with children who want their biological
dad back, who often try to drive a wedge between them and
mom. Yet millions of stepdads tip-toe through the minefields
of rejection, advisers to mom with neither pay or authority.
In thirteen years of researching Father and Child Reunion,
my biggest surprise was the effectiveness of single dads.
Around the world, children brought up by single dads do better
on twenty-six different areas of measurement (academic, psychological,
social and physical health) than children brought up by single
moms. Caveat. This does not mean that men are better fathers
than women are mothers-single dads in the year 2000 are similar
to female doctors in the 1950s: exceptionally motivated; and
single dads have higher incomes, more education, and are older
than their single mom counterparts. One reason, though, that
children do so much better with single dads is ironic-they
are more likely to have contact with their moms and feel better
about their moms than vice-versa. Their dads are more likely
to make sure that they have, in effect, two parents.
If dads are more effective than we may have
thought, a new question arises. Exactly what makes them so
effective? Conversely, if they are so effective, why are both
the intact family and joint physical custody even more effective
than a family with dad alone? As they say, "all that
and more…" in Part II.
*Warren Farrell, Ph.D., is a San Diego-based author of Father
and Child Reunion (2001), which contains the sources for each
of the points in this article. He has also written Why Men
Are The Way They Are and Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say,
a Book of the Month Club selection, as well as The Myth of
Male Power. A lecturer at the School of Medicine at the University
of California at San Diego, he has been elected three times
to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for
Women (NOW) in New York City. For more about Dr. Farrell or
his books, see www.warrenfarrell.com.