Envisioning Fatherhood: A Social Psychological Perspective on Young Men without Kids

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Envisioning Fatherhood: A Social Psychological Perspective on Young Men without Kids

Journal article

By: William Marsiglio, et al.

Date: April 2000

Source: Marsiglio, William, et al. "Envisioning Fatherhood: A Social Psychological Perspective on Young Men without Kids." Family Relations 49 (2000):138-139.

About the Author: William Marsiglio is a professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, where he has been part of the faculty since 1988. His research interests include fatherhood, human sexuality, families and primary relationships, gender, and social psychology. Marsigilo is the author of Stepdads: Stories of Love, Hope, and Repair (2004).


The role of fathers has varied widely in different eras. In patriarchal societies a father might produce dozens of children with numerous wives, limiting his individual interactions with his children. In Colonial America fathers generally taught their children how to write and frequently instructed them in a trade. In most agrarian societies fathers and their children worked side-by-side in the fields.

As Americans migrated from farms to factories in the early twentieth century, the roles of fathers and mothers began to diverge. With fathers at the office or jobsite each day, much of the daily responsibility for managing the household and raising the children passed to mothers. The rise of feminism and its emphasis on the value of women and mothers coincidentally minimized the perceived importance of fathers in children's lives.

As divorce rates climbed during the twentieth century, researchers began examining how the experience of growing up in a single-parent home might impact children. Extensive research in the United States soon identified numerous disadvantages faced by children growing up in a single-parent home: These children experience more problems in school, are sick more often, and are more likely to violate the law. But recent research suggests that the specific effect of losing a parent may depend on which parent is lost. Specifically a 1998 study found that male children living without fathers were far more likely to become criminals than those living without mothers, suggesting that the influence of a father on children may be quantifiably different than the influence of a mother, and that the two probably play complimentary roles in raising children.


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The 1998 study was among a flood of research studies on the impact of fathers in childrearing. Numerous findings confirmed that fathers and mothers play complimentary but distinct roles in the parenting process, and that children with both a father and a mother in the home achieve better outcomes, despite federal direct assistance of $150 billion per year for single-parent families.

Refuting contentions that fathers play a minor role in parenting, a 1997 study published by the U.S. Department of Education found that fathers play a more significant role in children's school success than mothers, and that greater father involvement in school activities led to higher grades, greater enjoyment, and fewer suspensions.

Without fathers present, self-destructive behavior becomes much more likely. Children who live apart from their fathers are four times as likely to begin smoking; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says they are also at dramatically greater risk of later drug and alcohol abuse. That same 1993 report noted that fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, while other studies found that fatherless children had higher absenteeism.

Research has also established alarming links between fatherlessness and crime. While poverty is generally considered an accurate predictor of crime within a neighborhood, a 1988 study (Smith and Jarjoura) found that the proportion of single-parent homes in a neighborhood is actually a far more accurate predictor. A statistical analysis of incarcerated rapists and juvenile murderers found that two-thirds of them had grown up in homes without fathers present. In 1994 the American Journal of Public Health reported that children who behaved violently at school were eleven times as likely to live in a home without a father.

As the importance of fathers has become more evident and the cost of federal assistance to single mothers has skyrocketed, numerous government efforts have been launched to improve fathering in America. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds an ongoing initiative to improve fathering; the effort focuses on and providing education resources to help men become better fathers. In 2004, Senators Evan Bayh and Rick Santorum cosponsored the Responsible Fatherhood Act, a federal law authorizing grants to help men become more effective fathers and to promote two-parent families. That same year President George W. Bush requested $50 million for fatherhood projects in his federal budget proposal.



Blankenhorn, David. Fatherless America: Confronting our Most Urgent Social Problem. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

McLanahan, Sara, and Gary Sandefur. Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Nappa, Mike. Growing Up Fatherless: Healing from the Absence of Dad. New York: Revell, 2003.


Denton, Rhonda E., and Charlene M. Kampfe. "The Relationship Between Family Variables and Adolescent Substance Abuse: A Literature Review." Adolescence 114 (1994): 475-495.

Gallagher, Maggie. "Fatherless Boys Grow Up into Dangerous Men." Wall Street Journal (Dec 1, 1998): A22-23.

Poponoe, David. "American Family Decline, 1960–1990: A Review and Appraisal." Journal of Marriage and Family 55 (3) (1993): 527-542.

Smith, Douglas, and G. Roger Jarjoura. "Social Structure and Criminal Victimization." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 25 (1988): 27-52.

Web sites

Department of Health and Human Services. "Promoting Responsible Fatherhood." June 9, 2006 〈http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/Parenting/hs.shtml〉 (accessed June 19, 2006).

National Fatherhood Initiative. "NFI Research." 〈http://www.fatherhood.org/research.asp〉 (accessed June 19, 2006).

ScienCentral. "Daddy's Brain." June 16, 2006 〈http://www.sciencentral.com/articles/〉 (accessed June 19, 2006).

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