The Cost of Fatherlessness

May 6, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Read this (The Fatherless Generation).  It’s a good compendium of many of the social, behavioral, emotional, educational, etc. deficits kids experience correlated with fatherlessness.  It’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before, at least piecemeal, but there’s a lot here and it’s well worth brushing up on.

For at least a couple of decades, this type of information has been well known.  Way back in 1994 David Blankenhorn forced the world to confront the deep-rooted problems associated with fatherlessness.  Barbara Dafoe Whitehead did much the same in her 1993 article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled “Dan Quayle Was Right.”  We should have gotten to work then fixing the problem of fatherlessness.  Instead, we did the opposite.  We ignored the problem and vilified fathers and men generally for every imaginable slight and error, whether real or not.  We still do.

But, when you go down the list of the social ills associated with fatherlessness, ask yourself “How much does all this cost, not only in dollars, but in social dysfunction?”  You won’t get an answer, because the cost is literally incalculable, but the exercise will bring home to you the gravity of the problem and the madness of our current-day society that wakes up every day as if nothing is amiss with families and kids.

After all, there are too many other problems that are more pressing, right?  Income inequality is a big one.  But wait, there’s a huge fatherlessness component to that, as single mothers with minor children in the home are the most likely of all demographic groups to live in poverty.

Health care of course is an important issue.  Ah, but fatherlessness plays a big role in poor health care and health outcomes.

Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

Teens in single mother households are at a 30% higher risk [of smoking, alcohol and drug abuse] than those in two-parent households.

Our incarceration rate is a problem.  But again, fatherlessness is a big part of that too.

Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households.

And so it goes, on and on.  Be it suicide, homelessness, mental health problems, poor educational attainment, low employment rates, teen pregnancy, crime, becoming a victim of child abuse or neglect, the list is long.  Every one of those problems tears at the fabric of society.  Attempts to address each one draw off much-needed funds from the public purse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fatherlessness is the most serious social issue we face.  Courts and laws that encourage (or demand) fatherlessness are the bane of a sensible society.  Some sources of fatherlessness are hard or perhaps impossible to stanch.  But one approach is simple, the legal version of a slam-dunk – family court reform.  All that’s required for that is a slight tweak to existing laws and educating judges about the necessity of implementing those laws as intended.  We know what to do and how to do it.

As my own father used to say, “Time’s a-wasting.”

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