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Source: MacArthur Foundation
Resulting in 1 citation.
1. McLanahan, Sara S.
Father Absence and the Welfare of Children
Working Paper, MacArthur Research Networks, Network on the Family and the Economy, [N.D.].
Cohort(s): NLSY79
Publisher: MacArthur Foundation
Keyword(s): Childbearing; Children, Well-Being; College Enrollment; Divorce; Family Formation; Family Studies; Fathers, Absence; High School and Beyond (HSB); Marital Disruption; Marital Instability; National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH); Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID); Parents, Single

Permission to reprint the abstract has not been received from the publisher.

Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically altered the family life of American children. Whereas in the early 1960s, nearly 90 percent of all children lived with both of their biological parents until they reached adulthood, today less than half of children grow up with both natural parents. Nearly a third are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom never live together, and another third are born to married parents who divorce before their child reaches adulthood. To further complicate matters, a substantial number of children are exposed to multiple marital disruptions and multiple father figures.

These changes have created tremendous uncertainty in children's lives and have led to considerable speculation among policy makers and the public more generally about the consequences of father absence. Some analysts argue that growing up with a single mother is the primary cause of many of the country's most serious social problems, including poverty, high school dropout, teen pregnancy, and delinquency (Popenoe, 1988, 1996; Whitehead, 1993; Blankenhorn, 1995). Others argue that poverty and economic insecurity are the real culprits, causing both father absence and adolescent behavioral problems (Skolnick, 1991; Stacy, 1993). Still others claim that the problems associated with family disruption are rooted in marital discord that begins long before the parents separate or divorce.

To bring empirical evidence to bear on this debate, my colleagues and I have been analyzing several large, nationally representative surveys that contain information on children's family structure growing up as well as their educational attainment and social adjustment in young adulthood. In this chapter, I summarize the major findings from this work as it pertains to the following questions:

Are children raised apart from their biological fathers worse off than children raised by both parents?
How large are the differences and which groups of children are most affected?
What factors account for the lower achievement of children in one-parent families? What factors are associated with resilience?
And finally, Do differences in children's wellbeing predate family disruption or are they are a consequence of father absence?

Our investigation has been going on for over 10 years now and covers more than 10 data sets. The most important of these are the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), the High School and Beyond Study (HSB), and the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). All of these surveys are large enough to allow us to distinguish among different types of single parent families, including families headed by never-married mothers as well as families headed by divorced or separated mothers and remarried mothers. These surveys also allow us to compare differences between boys and girls raised in one- and two-parent families as well as differences between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and different social classes.

To summarize briefly, we find that children who grow up apart from their biological fathers do less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents. They are less likely to finish high school and attend college, less likely to find and keep a steady job, and more likely to become teen mothers. The differences are not huge. Indeed, most children who grow up with a single parent do quite well. Nor are they large enough to support the claim that father absence is the major cause of our country's most serious social problems. However, the differences between children in one- and two-parent families are not so small as to be inconsequential, and there is fairly good evidence that father absence per se is responsible for at least some of them.

Bibliography Citation
McLanahan, Sara S. "Father Absence and the Welfare of Children." Working Paper, MacArthur Research Networks, Network on the Family and the Economy, [N.D.].