Active, engaged dads in the home improve the chances of future generations of men graduating college, finding gainful employment and staying out of prison.
That’s the conclusion from the Institute for Family Studies, whose research estimates 12 million boys are growing up in families without their biological father.
Even after adjusting for other factors, the data showed how boys growing up without their fathers are half as likely to graduate from college compared to their peers from intact families.
They were almost twice as likely to be “idle” – defined as neither working nor in school – in their late 20s, and about twice as likely to have spent time in jail by age 30.
“These are only a few of the data points which demonstrate that fatherlessness is one of the most pressing crises our culture is facing,” John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, wrote in a recent commentary on the research. “Why doesn’t our culture talk more about this?”
‘A volcano of festering anger’
If you’re a boy growing up without a father, research suggests you have a greater risk of being hurt in childhood – which can lead to disastrous consequences later in life.
“Fatherless boys are far more likely to be molested, recruited by gangs, and to join the military,” said Warren Farrell when discussing his book The Boy Crisis. “Boys with dad-deprivation often experience a volcano of festering anger. Anger is vulnerability’s mask, and with boys’ much greater tendency to act out, the boys who hurt will be the ones most likely to hurt us.”
Farrell also points to historical examples of this sort of exploitation, from the Hitler Youth to ISIS, searching “for recruits among boys who were fatherless.”
Today, as fatherlessness reaches record rates, studies have shown a clear correlation between dad-deprivation and higher criminal activity. Boys growing up in fatherless homes were significantly more likely to have been arrested during their teen years or incarcerated by the time they were 30.
Institute for Family Studies researchers conclude there is a “nexus between fatherlessness, family structure, and the problems the nation is now seeing among our young men.”
‘Without purpose and without work’
Even if fatherless boys do not fall into the trap of criminal activity, they stand a greater risk of falling into poverty than their peers from intact families.
“Unfortunately, more and more young men today are floundering without purpose and without work,” the researchers concluded, noting that even before the pandemic, nearly 7 million men aged 25-54 were not working at all. “The daily life of these men is often marked by hours in front of a screen while vaping, smoking marijuana, or under the influence of some other kind of substance.”
Again, the active and involved presence of a father can do much to mitigate this. Recent data show that young men growing up without their biological father were significantly more likely to be neither working nor in school (19%), compared to young men growing up with their biological father (11%).
Educational impacts of fatherlessness
Experts in higher education often bemoan the low U.S. college graduation rate, with several calling for higher per-pupil instructional spending as a potential solution. The institute’s findings, however, suggest a more deep-rooted problem: the absence of a biological father in the home.
“When it comes to higher education for young men, family structure seems to matter,” the researchers wrote.
“Even after controlling for race, family income growing up, maternal education, age, and an AFQT score (a measure of general knowledge), we still see that hailing from a home with his own biological father doubles the likelihood that a young man will graduate from college.”
Even before young adults reach college, however, the educational impact of fatherlessness continues in high school and in lower grades.
“Boys today are struggling at all levels of school, falling behind girls in reading and math skills, and are less likely than girls to graduate high school on time,” the researchers wrote.
The institute’s brief also cited an article by MIT economist David Autor, published by The New York Times under the headline, “A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls.” Autor found that boys who did not grow up in married families tended to get more suspensions in high school and had lower graduation rates than girls.
“Lacking the day-to-day involvement, guidance, and positive example of their father in the home, and the financial advantages associated with having him in the household, these boys are more likely to act up, lash out, flounder in school, and fail at work as they move into adolescence and adulthood,” the institute’s researchers concluded.
“Even though not all fathers play a positive role in their children’s lives, on average, boys benefit from having a present and involved father.”
Instead of continuing to ignore these findings, researchers suggest, we should seriously consider the future repercussions in a society where fatherless rates continue to rise.
“Too many young men are floundering and falling behind in one way or another – ignoring the imperative to get an education, failing to launch into adulthood, and succumbing to the lure of the street and becoming a threat to the community,” researchers wrote.
“Both these men and the nation are paying a heavy price for the breakdown of the family.”