Daughters and Their Dads: The Vital Relationship

With over a half century of solid social science research now in, we know quite clearly that children do best by every measure when raised by their own biological parents, preferably cemented by marriage. Not only is the evidence for all this overwhelming, but we also know that each individual parent – the mother and the father – plays a vital and unique role in the well-being of children. Each one contributes greatly to the rearing and raising of children.

Mothers and fathers are different, in other words, and each has a key role in shaping and developing the child. Let me look in more detail at just one aspect of this: the vital role of the father in his daughter’s life. There are now thousands of studies on the importance of fathers in general, with full-length books also discussing this. In particular, a dad brings unique and vitally important input into a daughter’s life, and when dad is absent, the daughter suffers in many ways.

dad-and-daighterAs already stated, the research on this is voluminous, so only a few highlights can here be offered. Father presence, input and affirmation all correlate with better outcomes for daughters. Many studies for example have shown a close connection between “the relationship between fatherly affirmation and a woman’s self-esteem, fear of intimacy, comfort with womanhood and comfort with sexuality” as one study puts it.

A researcher from Wake Forest University in America found that “fathers generally have as much or more influence than mothers on many aspects of their daughters’ lives. For example, the father has the greater impact on the daughter’s ability to trust, enjoy and relate well to the males in her life … well-fathered daughters are usually more self-confident, more self-reliant, and more successful in school and in their careers than poorly-fathered daughters… Daughters with good relationships with their father are also less likely to develop eating disorders.”

Another study found that “there were statistically significant relationships between engagement and accessibility with the daughters’ self-esteem and life satisfaction” and father involvement. And a further study from the US found a “relationship between father-daughter relationship quality and daughters’ stress response”.

Another study made this claim: “Research has shown that daughters who are dissatisfied with their communication interactions with their fathers are more likely to be involved with bad peer relationships, have unpleasant romantic endeavors, and make poor or life-threatening decisions compared to daughters who are satisfied with their communication interactions with their fathers.”

The research also finds a host of issues surrounding sexual problems. When dads are absent, daughters can get into all sorts of trouble in this area. Here are some of the findings. Studies from many different cultures have found that girls raised without fathers are more likely to be sexually active, and to start early sexual activity. Father-deprived girls “show precocious sexual interest, derogation of masculinity and males, and poor ability to maintain sexual and emotional adjustment with one male”.

A US study found that girls who grow up without fathers were “53 percent more likely to marry as teenagers, 111 percent more likely to have children as teenagers, 164 percent more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92 percent more likely to dissolve their own marriages.”

Another US study found that “father engagement seems to have differential effects on desirable outcomes by reducing the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women”.

New Zealand research has found that the absence of a father is a major factor in the early onset of puberty and teenage pregnancy. Dr Bruce Ellis, Psychologist in Sexual Development at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch found that one of the most important factors in determining early menarche is the father: “There seems to be something special about the role of fathers in regulating daughters’ sexual development”.

A British study found that girls brought up by lone parents were twice as likely to leave home by the age of 18 as the daughters of intact homes; were three times as likely to be cohabiting by the age of 20; and almost three times as likely to have a birth out of wedlock.

Physical problems also can be noted when fathers are absent. A recent Australian study showed that obesity among girls in single-parent households continues to be a major problem. Deakin University health researchers studied nearly 9000 children aged between four and nine and found higher rates of overweight and obesity in girls from single-parent families than those in two-parent families.

Brain development can even be impacted by fatherlessness. Dr Gabriella Gobbi carried out research on this at McGill University in Canada. A summary of her findings says this: “Growing up without a father could permanently alter the structure of the brain and produce children who are more aggressive and angry, scientists have warned. Children brought up only by a single mother have a higher risk of developing ‘deviant behaviour’, including drug abuse, new research suggests. It is also feared that growing up in a fatherless household could have a greater impact on daughters than on sons.”

Also, the likelihood of girls getting involved in antisocial and harmful behaviour is also increased because of father absence. As sociologist David Blankenhorn puts it, “If the evidence suggests that fatherless boys tend toward disorderly and violent behavior, it just as clearly suggests that fatherless girls tend toward personally and socially destructive relationships with men, including precocious sexual activity and unmarried motherhood.” Here again a raft of studies can be appealed to.

And as already noted, even something like one’s hormones can be influenced by the presence or absence of fathers. As science writer Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), states, “Girls who grow up with an engaged, involved father have a reduced risk of early puberty, risky sexual behavior, and teen pregnancy. The explanation could be that fathers’ scent alters the hormonal activity in their daughters.”

And a host of studies show that girls are far more at risk of sexual abuse when the father is not present. As but one example, a Finnish study of nearly 4,000 ninth-grade girls found that “stepfather-daughter incest was about 15 times as common as father-daughter incest”.

By way of summary, one author lists a number of reasons why fathers are so important to their daughters. These include:
-fathers shape their daughters’ self esteem
-fathers influence their daughters’ body image
-a father helps develop behavioural traits in his daughter
-fathers impact social traits in their daughters
-fathers help define future romantic relationships for their daughters
-fathers also help define non-romantic relationships

There is so much research now out on this that entire volumes have been penned examining the data. Let me highlight just two such books. The first is Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by American paediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker (Ballantine Books 2007). In it she demonstrates how vitally important a girl’s relationship with her father is to her mental, physical and social development.

The second book is by Bruce Robinson. Daughters and Their Dads (Macsis Publishing, 2008) also focuses on this vital relationship. As Robinson states in his opening chapter, “There is an incredible power in the father-daughter relationship, a power which strongly influences a woman’s future for good or bad. Girls long for affection and affirmation from their fathers. The influence that fathers have on their daughters is profound and lasts for the whole of their lives and it creates a hole in their lives if it is absent…. Many published studies have confirmed the powerful effect that fathers have on daughters with few dissenting voices.”

The evidence is clear: girls need their dads, and they suffer greatly in many respects when their biological father is absent.

[1289 words]

11 Replies to “Daughters and Their Dads: The Vital Relationship”

  1. Anyone with an eye to see knows the truth of this. I saw it so clearly when growing up, as a ‘platonic’ friend to many of the girls I knew when I as young, who would unburden their hearts to me. I saw the effects of it in, and on, my own marriage, and I see the unmistakable effects of it on the girls my boys associate with now. Fatherlessness in all it’s forms, is a curse of modern generations.

    Only fathers can truly validate their children, particularly the daughters. A big responsibility, and it is heartbreaking when I see that role being neglected or abused.

  2. Amen to that article. As a ‘girl’, growing up without a father figure in my life (the various partners my mother had were not able to replace a ‘real’ father) led to many issues with my mental health. Growing up early, always seeking for love in the wrong places, married with 25, divorced at the age of 28, at the edge of depression and suicide. I found the Lord after many many years seeking for something I wasnt able to express with words… the love of a/the f/Father. Praise God HE can turn bad things into good things and brings healing and redemption! Looking at my younger (half-) brother he’s even suffering worse from his non-existent father-son-relationship, unfortunately he is in denial and uses drugs as an escape…he is yet to find the Lord. Looking at the development of the importance of the role of families the last 20-30 years, it is scary where it has gone… It is heartbreaking to know that there are more and more children growing up in ‘families’, where there are 2 mothers or 2 fathers, who will be growing up with a deceived picture of what a real, divinely ordained family looks like. There will be a shift to a more and more perverted view of the world and the generations to come will see natural reproduction as something that needs to be eliminated (if its not already the case…). What can we do about it? Can we do anything about it? Maranatha!

  3. Exactly right, daughters need their Fathers as role models, to give unconditional love, acceptance and praise.
    Look at how many young ladies are in trouble as they have no role model Father.
    Good research Bill.

  4. OK Bill.

    So if Dad’s presence is so vital in their children’s lives, why do we sponsor and encourage and allow to perpetuate the nonsense of children so often wrenched from their fathers’ lives by “no fault” divorce?

    What a lie!!!!

    And this is usually done by the mothers – who of course cannot be contradicted because the system is no fault.

    Would we bring in no fault murder???

    So why do we allow this moronic oxymoron?????

    But this issue matters not at all to the church!!!????

    Please explain.


    Stuart Reece.

  5. I’m a recently new father and would very much enjoy reading the sources used for this post. Would you be able to point me in their direction?

  6. When a father is or becomes a deadbeat and doesn’t want to be married much less a dad, some women, myself included, have stepped up to fulfill a daughter’s needs. I raised my daughter – met her needs, instilled confidence, and she knows love. I have never had the many negative aspects written in this article and believe it is unfair profile. My daughter is a college graduate, has a good job, and recently married at 23 to a great young man. No drug, alcohol or sexual abuse. I raised a fun and happy child and we surrounded ourselves with family and other positive people.
    Being fatherless is not the kiss of death you relate it to be. Her deadbeat father missed out on a wonderful child. She knows her worth and does not let his poor choices define her. Nor will this presumptive, negative summary. A concise article would present all outcomes, not just the negative one.

  7. Thanks Tana. It is good to hear that your daughter is doing well. But sadly you have really missed the point here. In fact, you have committed a number of errors. One, you simply extrapolate from your personal experience as if that is the last word on all this. But that is not how we establish the truth of something.

    That is no more helpful than having a 90-year-old man who has smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for the past 75 years telling us that there is obviously nothing wrong with tobacco, and we can just ignore all the studies to the contrary.

    Yes there will be the odd exception, but we must look at the overall picture. The same here: the research is quite clear as I said in the article: for the most part and for most people, children do best when raised in married two-parent households. Of course there are exceptions, but exceptions do NOT make the rule.

    Also, when you compare apples with oranges it is never very fair of course. We all know of bad dads – and bad moms. If you had a deadbeat, no-good husband, then sure, chances are good that raising a child alone may have to be the preferred way to go.

    But try comparing like with like: either compare a good and healthily functioning two-parent family with a good single-parent family, or compare a lousy two-parent family with a lousy single-parent family. Otherwise you are not telling us anything of value, and are just being misleading.

    Lastly, you of course simply chose to ignore all the research and evidence offered here. You provide not one fact, study or bit of research to refute any of these numerous studies. All you do is take your own experience, assuming that it, and it alone, trumps all this research. That is not a good way to determine the truth about something!

    It is one thing if a husband dies, or walks, and we seek to do all we can to help the widow and her children. It is quite a different matter to deliberately bring a child into the world outside of an intact two-parent household. That was a main point of my article of course.

    And most honest single parents I am aware of have said that yes, the ideal is to have both parents around. That is always the desired way to go, but sometimes life does not always work out that way. So well done at being a good mother. But ask any child raised in a single-parent home and overwhelmingly they will say they really wished they could have had both a mom and a dad around, when and where possible.

  8. I think even worse than a girl growing up without a father is one who grows up with an abusive father. Especially when the abuse is not text-book, and therefore more subtle and hard to put in words.

  9. Thanks Jill. See my comment just above to Tana for more on this. Yes, if our ONLY choice was between an abusive dad and no dad, many might well prefer the latter. But that is a false dilemma, as there are other choices. And most dads are not abusive. So again, the research presented in my article still stands: kids do best all things considered when raised in a two-parent (heterosexual) home, preferably cemented by marriage, and girls do best when a biological father is around, all things considered. Once again, exceptions and hard cases do not make the rule.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *