Over the past 30 years, the amount of attention, research and literature on father involvement and father absence has increased dramatically. This paper reviews the past literature and recent research concerning the importance of involved fathers on their children’s development, and the detrimental effects father absence can have on their children especially daughters.
Based on accumulated research, it is evident that a father’s involvement has a significant impact on their children in terms of increased cognitive, social and emotional developmental abilities and decreased negative behavioral consequences. (Allen & Daly, 2002). Consequently, half of the children will experience the absence of their biological father before they turn 18 years old putting them at an increased risk for experiencing externalizing and internalizing behaviors. This paper will examine the benefits of father involvement and the negative effects of father absence on a child’s development.
Keywords: Father absence, father presence, child development.
Today, more than 24 million children, one out of three, live in a home deprived of the physical presence of a father (U.S Census Bureau) and millions more children have fathers who are physically present, but emotionally absent. While the total number of American families have risen over 20 percent since the 1970’s, the total number of mother-only families have increased by a staggering 51% (Duncan, 2002). This dramatic increase in single-parent homes, often fatherless, are linked to changes in the family structure, economic trends, and non-traditional marital ideals (Duncan, 2002; Livingston, 2014). If fatherlessness could be classified as a disease, it could be considered an epidemic and declared a national emergency.
There was a time when many researchers ignored and discredited the role of fathers and assumed that fathers were simply a biological necessity in reproduction. Recently, researchers have validated the importance of involved fathers and the detrimental effects father absence have on children especially daughters. Children of absent fathers display problems in cognitive, social, emotional, and psychological adjustment as well as an increased risk for delinquent, criminal, and sexual behaviors (Allen & Daly, 2002).
Given this widespread backdrop, the purpose of this paper is to review analyze the recent literature on father absence and the negative effects exhibited by their children. In specific, I will begin by exploring changes in the family structure with a sharp focus on the shift in father roles and values with the influence of changing economy. I will also define and explore the different types of father absence. However, before discussing the negative effects of father absence, an overview of the benefits of the father involvement is imperative. Thus, I will discuss the benefits of father involvement from a cognitive, emotional and social viewpoint. Finally, I will explain and review the adverse effects of father absence on children’s cognitive development, mental health, pubertal development, and delinquent and sexual behavior and their corresponding gender differences. Conclusively, I will summarize the important research findings previously outlined in the paper and the destructive effects on child development.
Changes in Family Structure
Rapid changes in the American family has transformed the image of who is gathering around the table for the holiday celebrations. The 21st century sparked many Americans to disregard the traditional ideas of marriage and family. The American family system has become more intricate and less traditional. Americans are postponing marriage and even some are foregoing the institution altogether. Nonetheless, the number of children born outside of wedlock is 41%, up only 5% from 1960 (Livingston, 2014). While the debate prevails as to whether divorce rates have declined or have risen in recent decades, it is clear that in the long term the amount of people who have been previously married is rising and remarriage. Today, 15% of American children are living with remarried parents, and 6% of all children are living with a step-parent (Livingston, 2014).
Changes in family structure, during the second half of the twentieth century, resulted in a large number of fathers living apart from their biological children. This is a unique situation in the history of the American family. Less than half of U.S. children younger than 18 years old are residing in a household with two married heterosexual parents in their original marriage. A change from 1973 when 73% of children fit this description (Livingston, 2014).
The continuing high rate of divorce combined with the dramatic rise in non-marital births results in about one-half of all U.S. children spending some portion of their pre-adult years residing in single-parent household often with only their mothers. Another indicator of this trend is reflected in the percentage of all adult men living with biological children which decreased from 53% in 1965 to 35% in 1995 (Cheadle, Amato, & King, 2010).
It is an undeniable fact of life today that a large majority of women, married and single with children of all ages from infants to teens, are working outside the home (National Women’s Law Center). The percentage of working women has nearly doubled from 1948 to 2001, and this increase in financial power has made paternal financial support less necessary for families (Duncan, 2002). Today, more than 77% of women with children under the age of 18 are in the labor force, and 76% of these women are employed full time and year round (NWLC). Single mothers must earn a living in order to feed, clothe, house and otherwise sustain themselves and their children. The average amount of child support, for custodial parents who receive it, is $4,700 annually (NWLC).
The changes in family structure resulting from innovative views of marriage and family, increased rates of divorce, remarriage and step-families, childbirth outside the marriage, and additional women entering the workforce have all greatly impacted the role of fathers and families. In tandem with the changes in family structure, growing autonomy of women and related trends, such as declining fertility, have resulted in a transition from traditional to multiple roles for many fathers (American Psychological Association; Cheadle et al., 2010). 21st century fathers have begun to take on fatherhood roles vastly different from the roles of fathers from preceding generations (Duncan, 2002).
Fathers throughout History
From journals, diaries and other accounts, a persona exist about the role fathers have played throughout American history. From pre-industrialize revolution times, fathers played a fundamental role in the families. Fathers were responsible for teaching children spiritual values, and how to read, write and master a skill or trade. With the emergence of industrialization, fathers left their farms for factories and began extensive and scorching 14-16 hour work days in dreadful conditions. Their work away from home hindered domestic relationships and resulted in fathers becoming emotionally and physically distant from both the home, family and children (Duncan, 2002).
Today, a new kind of fathering is emerging in various forms. One that is still a major financial contributor, but is more involved in domestic tasks and providing care for the children. Today’s father is no longer the traditional married exclusive breadwinner and sole disciplinarian in the family. A 21st century father can be single or married, gay or straight, stay-at-home or working, biological, adopted or step-father (APA).
Concerns about the role of fatherhood is not new (Duncan, 2002). People have worried about the absence of fathers from as early as the 1880’s when men shifted from farm to factory and again in the 1930’s when the Great Depression left millions unemployed and dependent on food stamps. However, the current focus on fatherhood, especially over the last three years, is based on research about the father’s involvement and the damaging and potentially long-term negative effects of a father’s absence on children and adolescents, especially daughters, and their development.
Defining Father Absence
‘Father absence’ is a phrase that is seldom clear, distinct, or even defined by the literature. Because of the absence and vagueness of definitional clarity, the term “father absence” can encompass a variety of circumstances. These circumstance can involve having a father who is non-existent, absent from life through death, divorce, or family discord, absent through work obligations, absent due to incarceration or institutionalization or physically present but absent due to disregard or neglect (East, Jackson, & O’Brien, 2006; 2007).
Further, the lack of clarity in the definition means that contact with the father can be non-existent, weekly, monthly or so forth. The lack of definitional clarity can cause complications in analyzing and interrupting researching findings. For example, father absence resulting from death or divorce can have dissimilar and diverse effects on the psychological well-being of an adolescent. Thus, it is important to note the differences in absent father circumstances (East et al., 2006; 2007).
Forms of Father Absence
Fathers abandon their daughters and sons for a variety of reasons: “divorce, death, absences due to employment or military service, addictions, incarceration, and chronic physical or mental illness” (Balcom, 1998, p. 147). Society defines some father’s absence as honorable such as a father who is missing in action while in the military. Other explanations are felt as disgracing and stigmatizing such as a father incarcerated for theft or a mentally unbalanced father whom commits suicide. An absent father may have a desire for a lifetime of exploration or may feel unable to live up to his requirements of the father role. One reason or any combinations of these occurrences can have a powerful impact on the child (Balcom, 1998).
As of 2006, 38% of all births were to unmarried women which is more than a six-fold increase since 1960 (Cheadle et al., 2010). Non-marital birth rates are highest for Hispanic women followed by African-American women. Rates for non-Hispanic white, Asian or Pacific Islander women are much lower (Cheadle et al., 2010).
The status of the father’s relationship with his child’s biological mother serves an important predictor of a father’s involvement in the child’s life. Non-residential fathers are at high risk for becoming disengaged and detached from their children over time. An absence of a close relationship with the biological parents is likely to result in lower rates of a father’s involvement with his children (APA).
Fathers have a difficult, if not impossible, time trying to maintain the same type of parenting roles with their biological children after divorce. Most fathers do not receive full custody of their children. Consequently, they have less time to spend with their children. Luckily, over the past two decades, visitation rights of father’s post-divorce has increased dramatically. Nonetheless, it should be noted that it is not the sheer frequency of visits and hours of contact between father and child, but rather the quality of the visits that contribute to the child’s overall well-being.
Research has discovered that there are crucial elements that help provide a healthy adjustment for children post-divorce. They are “appropriate parenting provide emotional support, monitor child’s activities, discipline and maintain age appropriate expectations, access to non-residential parent, suitable custody arraignments, low parental conflict, and psychologically healthy parents” (APA).
A new and emerging finding classifies men as resident or nonresident partners at a single point in time may actually be churners or cyclical cohabiters (Hernandez, Pressler, & Dorius, 2016). These terms refer to partners who cycle in and out of the home because of breaking up and re-partnering with the same partner and consequently are in on-again and off-again romantic relationships. Thus, boomerang fathering, is when a biological parent continuously enters or exists the home because of breaking up and re-parenting with an adolescent’s mother. Findings on boomerang fathering from Hernandez et al., (2016) suggests that it is more helpful than destructive. Adolescent females who are exposed to boomerang fathering reported significant depressive symptoms when compared with females exposed to fathers who left the house and never returned (Hernandez et al., 2016).
While debate remains if divorce levels are rising or falling, one thing is clear that the number of people who had been previously married is rising as is remarriage. Today, one in three American children are considered to be from a blended or stepfamily, and 6% of all American youths reside in a home with a stepparent (APA).
Stepfathers may confront many challenges in their new parenting roles of stepchildren. They need to strike a balance between preserving a healthy relationship with their ex-spouses in order to benefit the well-being of their biological children in hopes of not alienating their new spouses and additional children. In addition, it may take many years until their stepchildren view and accept them as “real” parents. Research has discovered that the best type of stepfamily which leads to the optimum and healthiest outcomes consists of parents who create and shape a solid committed partnership so they can cherish and foster their new marriage as well as effectively raise their children together (APA).
Benefits of Father Involvement on Children’s Developmental Outcomes
Over the past 30 years, the amount of attention, research and literature on father involvement has advanced dramatically. There is now a considerable amount of literature that covers important trends in a father’s approach to parenting and the effects on their child’s development. Based on the accumulated research, it is evident that a father’s involvement has huge implications on their children in terms of cognitive, social and emotional developmental abilities and a decrease in negative behavioral outcomes (Allen & Daly, 2002).
The cognitive benefits of a father’s involvement is evident starting in infancy to school age and even apparent as adults. Infants of highly involved fathers are more cognitively competent at six months, have higher cognitive function at 12 months, are better problem solvers at age two, and have higher IQ’s at age three (Allen & Daly, 2002). Children are also better academic achievers and are more likely to receive A’s, good grades, better quantitative and verbal skills, and often perform a year above their expected age level of academic tests. These children are more likely to live in homes that are more cognitive stimulating (William, 1997). During adolescence, they are more likely to have higher IQ’s, better attitudes toward school, participate in extracurricular activities, and graduate. They are less likely to fail a grade, have poor attendance, or have behavior problems at school. They are also likely to become young adults with “higher levels of educational achievement, career success, occupational competency, and psychological well-being,” (Allen & Daly, 2002, p.3).
Emotional Development and Well-being
Infant dads who are present and constantly involved in their child’s care are more likely to have infants that are securely attached, better able to handle strange situations, more resilient in stressful situations and more curious and eager to explore their environment (Cox, Owen, Henderson, & Margand, 1992). A father’s involvement has been positively correlated with overall life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms (Markowrtiz & Ryan, 2016). Young adults who had encouraging, accessible, and supportive fathers during childhood result in “high measures of self-acceptance and personal and social adjustment, and see themselves as dependable, trusting, practical, and friendly,” (Fish & Biller, 1973, p. 237). The variable that is most consistently associated with positive life outcomes is the quality of the fathers and child’s relationship (Allen & Daly, 2002).
A father’s involvement and commitment to their child’s care is positively correlated with the child’s overall “social competence, maturity, and capacity for relatedness with others” (Allen & Daly, 2002, p. 3). These children are more apt to have positive peer relationships and be classified as popular and well-liked by their peers. The greatest predictor of empathic concern in children is constant high levels of paternal involvement. A father’s warmth and nurturance significantly calculates a child’s moral maturity and is associated with a more pro-social and positive moral behaviors in both boys and girls (Allen & Daly, 2002).
Decrease in Negative Childhood Outcomes
Father’s involvement protects children from engaging in delinquent behavior and is associated with less substance abuse among adolescents, less delinquency, drug use, truancy, stealing, and drinking (Harris, Furstenberg & Marmer, 1998). It also lowers frequency of externalizing and internalizing symptoms such as acting out, disruptive behavior, depression, sadness and lying. Adolescents who had a nurturing and positive relationship with their fathers were 80% less likely to have been incarcerated and 75% less likely to become an unwed parent themselves (Harris et al., 1998).
Effect of Father Absence on Child Development
There is a crisis in America. According to the U.S. census bureau, 24 million children live without their biological father. Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all developmental abilities. Children’s school and academic performance, mental health, pubertal development, delinquent behavior, and sexual behavior are affected by the absence of a father.
The literature demonstrates the detrimental effects of father absence on children’s cognitive development as assessed by standardized IQ and achievement tests and school performance (Shinn, 1978).
School and Academic Performance
Studies overwhelmingly reveal that children who live with a single mother score lower on measures of academic achievement than children living in two parent families (Qureshi & Ahmad, 2014). Although children with stepparents score somewhat higher than children in one parent families, their score is still significantly lower than those of children with two biological parents (Qureshi & Ahmad, 2014). A comparable gap is found when grades rather than test scores are used to measure academic success. Children who live with two biological parents receive the highest grades and children who live with their mother and an unmarried partner receive the lowest grades (Thompson, Hanson, & McLanahan, 1994). Children living without a father are twice as likely to repeat a grade in school (U.S Department of Education).
The evidence from Shinn (1978) shows that rearing in father absent families or in families where fathers have little supportive interaction with their children is often associated with poor performance on cognitive tests. This suggests that financial hardship combined with high levels of anxiety and low levels of parent-child interaction are significant causes of poor performance among children in single-parent families. Thus, children’s interaction with their parents fosters cognitive development and that a reduction in interaction hinders it (Shinn, 1978).
In recent years, copious amounts of research and attention has been devoted to the impact that absent fathers have a significant impact on the mental health of their children. Previous research indicates that a child, who lives in a family with only a mother, will experience a wide range of outcomes, greater anxiety and lowered self-esteem (Lou et al., 2011). They will experience increased depressive symptoms and feelings of stress and worry (Gobbi et al., 2015). In the existing population, there is a 200% increase in the likelihood that a child will require psychological treatment, and 85% of all children with absent fathers will exhibit behavioral disorders (Sigle-Rushton, & McLanahan, 2002).
The relationship between fathers and their children can predict anxiety levels of a child more than the relationship between mothers and their children.In addition,the children of absent fathers have a higher likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder (Lou et al., 2011). Furthermore, anxiety, especially trait-anxiety, is closely related to self-esteem for children who have experienced parent separation, and low self-esteem has been proposed as a reason for the association between insecure attachment and anxiety (Lee & Hankin 2009).
Lou, Wang and Gao (2011) analyzed the influence of father absence on the anxiety and self-esteem levels of children and adolescents in regards to the timing of the separation. The findings suggested that the gender of the caretaker had diverse effects on anxiety level. Children who lived solely with their mothers demonstrated high levels of anxiety compared to children living with both parents or with grandparents. Boys with absent fathers demonstrated a higher state of anxiety. Father absence appeared more emotionally destructive if the father left home when the child was between seven and twelve years old (Lou et al., 2011). The father’s involvement had a stronger effect on adolescents’ behaviors and emotional problems compared to the mother’s involvement regardless of involvement (Flouri and Buchanan, 2003). In addition, the father played a more important role in emotional control and regulation compared to the mother (Lou et al., 2011). Children with absent fathers had lower self-esteem compared to the children with fathers who were present, in part, due to the effects of poverty. In addition, the timing of the father’s absence impacted self-esteem. Middle school girls showed lower self-esteem when their father’s absence occurred before 2 years old, and a decrease in self-esteem when it occurred between 9th and 12th grade (Lou et al., 2011).
Depressive Symptoms, Stress, and Worry
In the longitudinal study conducted by Gobbi et al. (2015), the authors assessed if the estrangement from the absent father is related to depressive symptoms, stress, or substance use among adolescents when compared with adolescents with both residential parents. The adolescents with absent fathers self-reported a greater number of depressive symptoms along with family based strain and worry four to six months’ post-separation, and it decreased after seven to nine months. However, stress levels linked to the parent’s divorce, money, and new family remained high. In addition, a significantly higher level of anxiety and stress related to their relationship with their mothers was reported. Thus, suggesting that the short-term increases in depression and stress support higher depressive symptoms among father absent adolescents. In contrast to previous data, adolescents’ substance abuse does not increase in the short term following a father’s leaving (Gobbi et al., 2015).
Until recently, the role of the father was considered less important than that of the mother. However, fathers today should be considered just as important as mothers in the development and well-being of children. Fathering is more than a physical presence. Father absence seems to have adverse effects on a childhood and causes ongoing issues not only with cognition and behavior but also with emotions and the self. Moreover, father absence and the feelings associated were reportedly not able to be overcome by the mother–child bond (Gobbi et al., 2015). There is a 200% increase in attempted or successful teen suicide with 63% of all youth suicide from fatherless homes.
Daughter’s Pubertal Development
The onset of pubertal development has often been viewed as an important indicator of the shift from childhood into adolescence. In the past, discrepancies in the timing of pubertal maturation has received considerable research attention. The most consistent finding to emerge from past research is that early timing of puberty in girls is associated with negative health and psychosocial outcomes (Ellis & Garber, 2000). In particular, early maturing girls are at an increased risk for breast cancer, obesity and teenage pregnancy. They tend to show more disturbances in body image, report more emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, and engage in more problem behaviors such as alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity (Ellis & Garber, 2000).
Environmental conditions, especially those in the family domain, may influence girls’ timing of puberty. Specifically, the absence of a biologically-related father has been shown to speed up adolescent reproductive development (Deardroff et al., 2012). Girls in father absent homes are twice as likely to experience menarche prior to age 12 years old (Ellis & Garber, 2000). They display greater pubertal development in the seventh grade. In addition, the longer the period of father absence, the earlier the onset of menstruation (Deardroff et al., 2012).
Based on the evolutionary theory of socialization which states that girls exposed to a stressful environment especially caused by a father’s absence between the ages of one and seven, showed early onset of puberty. However, stress may not be the operating mechanism in early menarche for two reasons (Ellis & Garber, 2000). First, family conflict and father absence are not closely related. Second, a mother’s absence does not demonstrate the same relational effects to a daughter’s pubertal timing. Therefore, one explanation for early sexual maturation is based on an increased exposure to unrelated males such as step-fathers and boyfriends. According to the findings from Ellis & Garber (2000) suggesting that a stepfather’s presence, rather than a biological absent father, best accounted for early pubertal maturation in girls living apart from their biological fathers.
In addition, income and ethnicity was linked to father absence and pubertal onset when accounting for body mass index (Deardroff et al., 2012). A father’s absence accounted for an earlier age of breast growth only in higher-income families and only predicted the appearance of pubic hair in higher-income African American daughters. The daughter’s amount of body fat correlating to their BMI was not related to father absence. In conclusion, girls from parents obtaining a higher-income, but not lower-income families, is linked to earlier puberty. This was especially true among African Americans daughters relative to pubic hair appearance and growth (Deardroff et al., 2012).
Effect of Father Absence on Delinquent Behavior
It is a common belief that growing up without a father are “root causes” of crime, alcohol consumption, drug use and sexual activity. Delinquency of children, and in particular boys, is promoted by father absence (Qureshi & Ahmad, 2014). Children with only one parent are more prone to negative behaviors, delinquency, alcohol consumption and drug use (Hemovich & Crano, 2009). Father absence and the parental conflict that may precede it may expose children to: maladaptive emotional coping strategies or impulsive behaviors, or may act out in emotional disruption by high levels of familial conflict, struggle with disruption of family life, and may experience reduced parental monitoring, providing use to engage in risky, or delinquent behavior (Markowrtiz & Ryan, 2016).
The absence of a father can have severe consequence. Thus, there is a 86% increase in the likelihood that a child will become a psychotic delinquent (Qureshi & Ahmad, 2014). Some of the most widely recognized statistics:
“90% of all homeless and runway children, 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions, 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers, 85% of person youths, and talk about promoting a danger to woman, up to 80% of rapist, motivated by displaced anger (Qureshi & Ahmad, 2014, p. 2).
Studies continuously reveal that youths growing up without the presence of a father reported higher rates of crime, alcohol use, marijuana use, and sexual behavior, with males showing higher rates of these behaviors than females (Hemovich & Crano, 2009; Stern, Northman, & Slyck, 1984; Rodney & Mupier, 1999). Also, that a father’s departure later in adolescence is associated with increased adolescent delinquency (Markowrtiz & Ryan, 2016).
Juvenile crime is an additional concern related to father absence. Lamb (1963) suggests that parental absence in particular contributes to juvenile crime because of inadequate parental supervision. Father absence has a detrimental effect on delinquency and serious crimes. Violent children are eleven times more likely not to live with fathers, and six times more likely to have parents who are not married (Rodney & Mupier, 1999). The minor effect of father absence later in life on delinquent behavior suggests that it is likely a risk factor for adolescent-limited delinquent behavior rather than a more serious life course delinquency (Markowrtiz & Ryan, 2016).
Adolescent alcohol consumption appears to be on the rise with 71% to 92% of adolescents having at least tried alcohol (Stern et al., 1984). Children of absent fathers (52.9%) were categorized as high-rate alcohol users, drinking once a week and drunkenness once a month, compared to 37.9% children of present fathers. Whereas, females who fathers were absent from the home were more likely to be considered moderate alcohol users, drinking a few times a month (Stern et al., 1984).
Adolescent use of drugs rose significantly during the 1960’s and has continued to rise (Hemovich & Crano, 2009). Children from single-parent families are at substantially greater risk of drug involvement than children of dual-parent families. This generalization held across multiple substances. Children from intact families used significantly less inhalants, marijuana, and amphetamines than children from single-parent families. Girls in father-only households used significantly more illicit substances than girls in mother-only or dual-parent households. Almost half (47.3%) of the males whose fathers were absent from the home were categorized as high-rate marijuana users, smoking marijuana once per day compared to father present children (29.3%). Fahter presence in the home does not affect the rate of marijuana use among girls compared to boys (Stern et al., 1984).
Effect of Father Absence on Daughter’s Sexual Behavior
As the number of sexually active American teenagers has risen over the last half of the 20th century, the amount of research conducted on teenage sexual activity (Mendle et al., 2009) has risen as well. Research consistently recognizes family structure as a noticeable antecedent of earlier sexual activity among teenagers. Children in households without a biological father reveal both accelerated sexual onset and considerably amplified rates of teenage pregnancy (Mendle et al., 2009; Ellis et al., 2003).
Theories of Early Sexual Behavior
There are many theoretical explanations for the connection linking father absence and early sexual activity.
Evolutionary theories propose that a chief function of early childhood is to program information that shapes future reproductive behavior. Thus, father absence is viewed as detrimental to early childhood experiences and these experiences determine if a child’s sexual behavior will be orientated towards “quality or quaintly” patterns. Children from father absent homes observe “unstable, conflicted, or stressed parental relationships, they learn that resources are scarce, people untrustworthy, and relationships opportunistic,” (Mendle et al., 2009, p. 1466). These children develop and believe that reproduction should be focused more toward reproducing rather than parenting and tend to have earlier sexual onset, multiple sexual partners, and unreliable relationships (Mendle et al., 2009).
The Paternal Investment Theory suggests that developmental pathways underlying female reproductive behaviors are especially responsive to the father’s role in the family and parenting behavior. The quality of paternal care and level of paternal involvement in parenting is believed to influence pubertal maturation and sexual behavior independent of other stressors present in the family system (Mendle et al., 2009). Second theoretical perspective argues that parent’s sexual behavior acts as a socializing force for children’s sexual behavior. Parents, both explicitly and implicitly, model sexual attitudes and behaviors for their children. A third theoretical perspective holds that a single-parent family structure may facilitate adolescent sexuality due to reduced parental control.
Age of First Sexual Experience
First sexual intercourse is a major developmental landmark signifying a convergence of personal, biological, and social factors (Mendel, et al., 2009). A daughter’s biological father who is either absent from birth or leaves home between the ages of six and thirteen is a predictor of an earlier age at first intercourse (Ryan, 2015). However, father departure was not associated with age at first intercourse across all ages. Children whose fathers left between birth and age five did not have a younger age at first intercourse compared to siblings whose fathers were always present. The significant effects of absent fathers on age at first intercourse emerged exclusively for girls. Thus, girls may be more impacted than boys by weak monitoring during adolescence. Alternatively, girls may be more distressed emotionally as a result of father absence or family disruption because they are more attuned to relationships and relationship quality than boys (Ryan, 2015).
Girls who receive higher quality fathering engage in less risky sexual behavior (RSB) than their peers (DelPriore, Ellis, & Schlomer, 2017). Specifically, higher parental investment (father’s presence in the home, father’s warmth and involvement) is associated with lower levels of early and risky sexual behavior in adolescent daughters (DelPriore et al., 2017; Ellis et al., 2003). Previous research identifies higher levels of parental monitoring, knowledge and reduced affiliation with deviant peers as potential mediators of this observed fathering effect.
According to the parental investment theory, (DelPriore et al., 2017; Ellis et al., 2003, 2012) the quality of parenting that the father provides to biological daughters offers vital information about the accessibility and dependability of male commitment. Girls use this information to regulate their relationship behaviors and expectations for long-term investments in significant others. From this perspective, a father’s quality exerts a unique and targeted casual influence on daughter’s sexual and reproductive strategies. The findings from DelPriore et al., (2017) indicate that higher fathering quality may decrease daughters’ engagement in risky sexual behaviors by increasing the amount of parental monitoring they receive and decrease their affiliation with peers who promote risky sexual behavior.
Risk of Teenage pregnancy
In contemporary westernized cultures adolescent girls are confronted with a biosocial dilemma, they have the biological capacity to reproduce but will face many negative outcomes if they reproduce. Specifically, teenage pregnancy is associated with “lower educational and occupational attainment, more mental and physical health problems, inadequate social support networks for parenting, and increased risk of abuse and neglect for children born to teen mothers,” (Ellis et al., 2003, p. 671). Despite the consequences, the United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy among western industrialized societies with 10% of adolescent teens becoming pregnant between the ages of 15-18 (Ellis et al., 2003).
There is a significant quantity of research that has recognized that absent fathers are a major risk factor for both early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy (Ellis et al., 2003). Ellis et al. (2003) discovered that daughters who experience early father absence had the “highest rates of both early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy, followed by late father absence, and then father-present girls” (p.818) This finding is essential in calculating probable rates of teenage pregnancy among adolescent girls. The rates for early father absent girls were seven to eight times higher among father-present daughters, but only two to three times higher than late father absent daughters. Thus, father absence from early childhood is the greatest predictor of teenage pregnancy which are 7 times higher among females whose fathers left early in their life (Ellis et al., 2003).
Father absence forms a devastating and debauched path to early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy among teenagers. Father absence, between the ages of six and thirteen, predicted an earlier age at first intercourse. Father absence, in early childhood, increases the chance of their daughter becoming pregnant by seven times.
Gender Differences on Effect of Father Absence
There is considerable evidence suggesting that boys and girls respond and react differently to a biological father’s departure and absence from the home. Mott et al., (1997) analyzed the short term and long term effects of father departure on gender differences. In the short term, boys are generally more aggressive in their disruptive and non-compliant behavior possibly due to a stronger father-son relationship prior to parental departure. In addition, increased conflict among adolescent white boys and their mothers is suggested to be related to the decline of the home environment following the father’s departure (Mott et al., 1997). Girls’ adjustment is often quicker and displays less behavioral manifestations while boys face greater and longer adjustment problems and exhibit more antisocial behaviors (Mott et al., 1997). These results suggest that boys suffer a greater disadvantage than girls when a father is absent from the home. When a new man enters the home, the effects are similar for both boys and girls, but slightly more negatively for girls (Mott et al., 1997). In addition, gender differences are visible on internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Boys, on average, are more likely to be unhappy, sad, depressed, dependent, and hyperactive. In contrast, girls are more likely to develop an over dependence on others (Mott et al., 1997) and display greater internalizing problems (Allen & Daly, 2002).
Gender Differences and Sexual Behavior
The role and meaning of sex has changed drastically over time. Gender differences on sexual behavior between daughters and sons is suggested to be dependent and affected based on father’s presence. The evidence from (Stern et al., 1984) reported that males with absent father (53.4%) reported very high sexual activity, defined by frequent petting and participating in intercourse on a regular basis, compared with only 22.8% of father present males engaging in high sexual activity. Females whose father were not present only had moderate sexual activity. In addition to frequency of sexual behavior, almost one-third of boys, whose fathers were absent from the home, reported seven or more different sexual partners whereas only 10% of present-father sons reported seven or more sexual partners (Stern et al., 1984). Father presence demonstrated less of an effect on the number of sexual partners on their female counterparts (Stern et al., 1984).
Father absence has apparent gender differences on short term and long term consequences, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and sexual behavior. Thus, boys with absent fathers are more likely to be more aggressive in their disruptive and non-compliant behavior, have greater and longer adjustment problems, exhibit more antisocial behaviors and are likely to be unhappy, sad, depressed, dependent, and hyperactive, engage in more frequent sexual behavior and have a greater number of sexual partners (Mott et al., 1997; Allen & Dally, 2002; Stern et al., 1984).
There is a crisis looming over America: absent fathers. As previously indicated, 24 million children live without their biological father and approximately one half of children in the United States today will experience father absence from the home before they reach the age 18 (Duncan, 2002). In turn, the body of knowledge about the effects of father absence on child development has grown with the crisis of the staggering number fatherless children during the early twenty-first century.
Fathers abandon their daughters and sons for a variety of reasons, but father absence has been correlated with a number of negative outcomes. Thus, father absence has been associated to speed up adolescent reproductive development, heighten risk for drug, alcohol, and criminal involvement, accelerate sexual onset and considerably amplified rates of teenage pregnancy. In conclusion, the role fathers play in their children’s lives should not be discredited. Instead, fathers should play a strong, consistent, and highly involved role in the day-to-day lives of both their sons and daughters because we know now that growing up without a father is not only common today but one of the worst things that can happen to a child. So potential, current, and future father’s if I can leave you with one last piece of advice, be in your child’s life, forever and make sure they never question how much you love them.
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