Father Absence

Over five decades of social science research have told us just how bad things are for children when the father is absent. By every social indicator, children fare far worse when deprived of their biological dads. Whether we talk about educational performance, drug use, criminal activity or suicide rates, all these problems are compounded when children grow up without fathers.

Of course as with anything, there can be exceptions here. But exceptions do not make the rule. As David Blankenhorn once put it, “Unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments – not economic growth or prison construction or welfare reform or better schools – will succeed in arresting the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence. To tolerate the trend of fatherlessness is to accept the inevitability of continued societal recession.”

Elsewhere I have attempted a brief summary for the mountain of data on this. One recent piece can be found here:

But of course the evidence keeps on coming. New research continues to pour in about the debilitating impact of fatherlessness. A new report just released in Britain called “Fractured Families: Why Stability Matters,” paints a very dark picture indeed of what life is like without fathers.

As it says, “Families matter and the challenge around family breakdown has far-reaching consequences. This report highlights issues of father absence, young parenthood and the decline of marriage. It looks at the growing number of ‘complex families’ in our communities and the impact of poverty on our children today. Some of the statistics and research can seem quite overwhelming and paint a very depressing picture. Yet, the focus of this report is to ensure we face the issues and work towards policy and practice that addresses both the cause and consequence of family breakdown.”

You can see the full report by clicking on the link below. One article offers this intro to it: “Half of all children born in the UK are being raised by one parent, usually the mother, ‘and every year an additional 20,000 people, mainly women, join the throngs of those raising children more or less singlehandedly,’ according to a new report by the Centre for Social Justice.

“The report, titled ‘Fractured Families: Why Stability Matters,’ called it a ‘conservative estimate’ that a million children in Britain grow up having ‘no meaningful contact at all’ with their fathers. This is compounded by the ‘dearth’ of male teachers in schools.

“The effect of the absence of fathers, they said, has been ‘devastating’: ‘Children with separated, single or step-parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, struggle to make friends and with their behaviour. They often battle with anxiety or depression throughout the rest of their lives’.”

Peter Hitchens has written a good commentary on this study and is worth citing here: “Our 45-year national war against traditional family life has been so successful that almost 50% of 15-year-olds no longer live with both their parents. At the same time we have indulged our neglected and abandoned young with electronics, so that 79% of children aged between 5 and 16 have bedroom TVs.

“And as we soppily mark ‘Father’s Day’ with cards, socks, sentimentality and meals out, we should remember that in almost all cases the absent parent is the father. There is no doubt about the facts here. Let me list some of them. The cost of our wild, unprecedented national experiment in fatherlessness is now £49 billion each year, more than the defence budget. This figure, currently costing each taxpayer £1,541 per year, is rising all the time, and has gone up by almost a quarter since 2009.

“The money partly goes on handouts and housing which an old-fashioned family with a working father would not have needed. Partly it goes on trying to cope with the crime, disorder, truancy, educational failure, physical and mental illness and general misery which are so much more common among the fatherless than in those from stable homes.”

And all this matters: “Young people from fractured homes are statistically twice as likely to have behaviour problems as those from stable households. They are more likely to be depressed, to abuse drugs or alcohol, to do badly at school, and end up living in relative poverty. Girls with absent fathers (according to studies in the USA and New Zealand) have teenage pregnancy rates seven or eight times as high as those whose fathers have stayed in meaningful touch with them.

“By contrast, the link between marriage and good health is so strong that one study showed the health gain achieved by marrying was as great as that received from giving up smoking. In all these dismal statistics of marriage decline and failure, the United Kingdom is one of the worst afflicted among advanced nations.”

One of the best ways to learn about the harmful effects of fatherlessness is to simply talk to the children themselves. They back up what all the research and evidence tell us. A recent documentary called Absent by American journalist and director Justin Hunt does just this. You can see a short clip of the film here: http://www.absentmovie.com/

Of interest is the fact that Hunt is now in Australia showing the film. Some 34 venues are included in a 16-day tour, and I will be seeing it tonight in Melbourne. You can learn more about the remaining dates here: http://www.absentmovie.com.au/

So please try to get along to the screening. If not, have a look at the British report. Fathers matter, and they matter big time. Our children deserve to be raised by both parents wherever possible.


Invariably a few angry single mothers will lash out at me after seeing an article like this. So let me clarify things here: It is not picking on single mums to state the empirical facts that kids raised in single parent homes do perform worse by every social indicator – that simply happens to be the findings of the social science data. Single mums or dads of course need all the help they can get. They are doing twice the work with half the resources.

It is one thing to find yourself a single parent through no fault of your own (desertion, death of a spouse, etc). It is quite another to deliberately become a single mum, and deprive kids of one of the two most important people in their lives. So we must be careful not to shoot the messenger here. We can support single mums while also warning against the very real dangers of fatherlessness.

Click to access CSJ_Fractured_Families_Report_WEB_13.06.13.pdf


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6 Replies to “Father Absence”

  1. Thanks for the heads-up on the showings of Absent, Bill. There is one only in Perth metro on Saturday. As a new dad I am keen to try and get to this.

    Matt Patchon

  2. There are many issues here of course. One is the absence of husband/father because the deserted wife has not acknowledged the proper role of a man in the marriage and the husband was not prepared to take up his proper responsibilities. Then we have the feminists and others telling us that such an argument is wrong because there are no real differences between men and women (although many feminists seem to hate men in general).

    While we must have proper concern for those who are sole parents it is galling when there is so much that militates against the acceptance of the impoprtance of a mother and father in residence taking up their proper roles. As for lesbian parents and so on…Words fail us at times I think.

    In churches it is especially important for married men to take the sons of widowed or deserted mothers out with their own boys, or invite them to their homes for activities with father and sons.

    David Morrison

  3. Surprise, surprise, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know the outcomes of lacking a father and a father’s influence.

    Leigh Stebbins

  4. I am looking forward to seeing “Absent” in Adelaide on Friday.
    Jeremy Woods

  5. Hi Bill, probably 250-300 people turned out to the Perth metro screening of this documentary. Such a moving tale to be told, with a great blend of some stats and personal stories. I bought a copy of the DVD with the intention of organising a screening at my own church.

    Despite the depth of tragedy in many of the stories, the documentary does finish with an epilogue of hope and a potentially brighter future for men.

    Thanks for highlighting this documentary in your blog post.

    Matthew Patchon

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