Father Absence, its Neglect and Long Lasting Effects

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In a June 2019 article just before Father’s Day Suzanne Venker commented that the future of men and marriage is bleak:

With Father’s Day upon us, the time has come to address as a nation what Heather Mac Donald noted earlier this year is “the greatest social catastrophe of our time”: fatherlessness. Fatherlessness is the No. 1 cause of nearly all social ills we face. We can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

Venker notes that father absence is the more accurate term rather than fatherlessness which continues to be widely used.

There are now many sources to support these claims but they continue to be ignored both in the US and here. The topic has been approached from many different sides but the results invariably underscore the same conclusion: the great importance of  fathers in the development of their children.

We start  with a respected academic who has written a great deal in this area. Sara McLanahan along with Laura Tach and Daniel Schneider wrote a piece in 2013 titled The Causal Effects of Father Absence in which they looked at effects in four outcomes: educational attainment, mental health, relationship formation and stability, and labour force success.

The first thing to note is the title which refers to causal effects. Typically research in the social sciences refers to strong correlations but rarely finds causal effects. This paper says that father absence causes the problems, a very strong finding. “We find strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing externalizing behavior. These effects may be more pronounced if father absence occurs during early childhood than during middle childhood, and they may be more pronounced for boys than for girls. There is weaker evidence of an effect of father absence on children’s cognitive ability.”

In an earlier 2004 article with Cynthia Harper “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.”  McLanahan found that:  Boys who grow up without a father are twice as likely to end up in jail than those who come from two-parent families.

Children from father absent homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse and drop out of school

A website from the US which offers a great deal of information on father absence is https://fathers.com/statistics-and-research/the-consequences-of-fatherlessness/

Six Major Issues

It notes: A great many of the social ills faced by America’s children is related to father absence, six are noted here with supporting data as in
this infographic: Source: 2017. U.S. Census Bureau. Data represent children living without a biological, step, or adoptive father.

As supported by the data below, children from father absent homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.


– Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.

Drug and alcohol abuse

“Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics. Survey on Child Health. Washington, DC, 1993.

Physical and Emotional Health

Children of single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to commit suicide.

Educational Achievement

71% of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills.


Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency than their peers living in non-intact families.

Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy

– Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.

Jordan Peterson and Warren Farrell Comment

It is now two years since the American Psychological Association issued its notorious Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men on the theme  that traditional masculinity was harmful.

Toby Young, since founder of the Free Speech Union, wrote at the time:

“Traditional male qualities like courage, self-reliance, competitiveness, stoicism, personal ambition and a love of adventure are ‘psychologically harmful’. If you’re in any doubt about the takeover of the American psychological profession by grievance studies professors, look no further than these guidelines. There’s scarcely a sentence that isn’t freighted with the ideology of the social justice left.”

Jordan Peterson, himself an eminent psychologist, took ferocious exception to the guidelines in a powerful piece.

Peterson actually used the known facts about father absence to confound the critics in the APA:

To indicate, as the writers have, that it is the socialization of boys and men by men that is producing both a decrement in the personal mental health of males and females and a threat to the social fabric is not only to get the facts wrong, but to get them wrong in a manner that is directly antithetical to the truth.

What kind of families produce violent young men? Fatherless families. The pernicious effect of fatherlessness is exceptionally well-documented. No serious researchers question it. Even the generally damnable sociologists admit it (see, for example, here). Fatherless boys are over-represented as alcoholics, addicts, gang-members, prisoners, rapists and murderers.

Warren Farrell and Cassie Jaye

Warren Farrell the well-known US commentator and activist on issues relating to men and boys gave a TED talk in 2015 titled the Boy Crisis in which he looked at some of the problems boys were facing in particular around father absence.  These included the problems cited above but also gave a very telling graphic on the issue of suicide. In the course of his talk he made the shocking statement that prisons were centres for dad-deprived boys: a 700% increase in prison places between 1972 and 2013.
Farrell also made a video with Jordan Peterson on the importance of fathers which is here.

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