Some would argue that America is rapidly becoming a fatherless society, or perhaps more accurately, an absentee father society. The importance and influence of fathers in families has been in significant decline since the Industrial Revolution and is now reaching critical proportions. The near-total absence of male role models has ripped a hole the size of half the population in many urban areas. For example, in Baltimore, only 38 percent of families have two parents, and in St. Louis the portion is 40 percent.
Across time and cultures, fathers have always been considered essential—and not just for their sperm. Indeed, no known society ever thought of fathers as potentially unnecessary.Marriage and the nuclear family—mother, father, and children—are the most universal social institutions in existence. In no society has the birth of children out of wedlock been the cultural norm. To the contrary, concern for the legitimacy of children is nearly universal.
As Alexander Mitscherlich argues in Society Without A Father(link is external), there has been a “progressive loss of the father’s authority and diminution of his power in the family and over the family.”
“If present trends continue, writes David Popenoe (link is external), a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, “the percentage of American children living apart from their biological fathers will reach 50% by the next century.” He argues “this massive erosion of fatherhood contributes mightily to many of the major social problems of our time…Fatherless children have a risk factor of two to three times that of fathered children for a wide range of negative outcomes, including dropping out of high school, giving birth as a teenager and becoming a juvenile delinquent.”
According to David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America,(link is external) chair of the National Fatherhood Initiative and founder/president of the Institute for American Values, organization, and research conducted by Popenoe and scores of other researchers:
- Approximately 30% of all American children are born into single-parent homes, and for the black community, that figure is 68%;
- Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
- Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents;
- Child abuse is significantly more likely to occur in single parent homes than in intact families;
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census;
- 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law;
- 63% of 1500 CEOs and human resource directors said it was not reasonable for a father to take a leave after the birth of a child;
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools;
- 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes according to a report in Criminal Justice & Behavior;
- In single-mother families in the U.S. about 66% of young children live in poverty;
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes;
- Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes according to a study by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation.
- 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control;
- Of all violent crimes against women committed by intimates about 65% were committed by either boy-friends or ex-husbands, compared with 9 % by husbands;
- Girls living with non-natal fathers (boyfriends and stepfathers) are at higher risk for sexual abuse than girls living with natal fathers;
- Daughters of single mothers are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 111% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages.
- A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
- Juvenile crime, the majority of which is committed by males, has increased six-fold since 1992;
- In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
- The Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined more than 70 points in the past two decades; children in single-parent families tend to score lower on standardized tests and to receive lower grades in school according to a Congressional Research Service Report.
Blankenhorn argues that America is facing not just the loss of fathers, but also the erosion of the ideal of fatherhood. Few people doubt the fundamental importance of mothers, Popenoe comments, but increasingly the question of whether fathers are really necessary is being raised and said by many to be a merely a social role that others-mothers, partners, stepfathers, uncles and aunts, and grandparents can play.