SEE ALL MYTHS AND FACTS PAGES
SEE MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT FATHERHOOD
This page is http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/020.htm
NATIONAL FATHERHOOD INITIATIVE:
In brown, what the pundits, spin-meisters, and study summarizers SAY the studies have found (frequently interposed with could-bes, should-bes, what-ifs, comments, faulty conclusions, and suppositions without cites), and, in black: what the research actually says!
Fluff -- Children learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the context of playing with their fathers.
Fact: Children learn the very same lessons playing with anyone. Contrary to the implication in Horn's misinformation, above, Pleck's research has found the following: Mothers and fathers influence their children in similar ways with regard to the development of morality, competence in social interactions, academic achievement, and mental health.
Fluff -- Children with an involved father have more varied social experiences and are more intellectually advanced than those who only have regular contact with their mother.
Fact: Contrary to the implication above, long-time fatherhood exaltation advocate Biller actually refers only to "father involvement" in the context of an intact home -- even he cannot characterize the research as unequivocably supporting father involvement by divorced and unmarried men. Biller is perhaps best known for his decades of research-cum-hand-wringing to the effect that a lack of paternal influence can cause boys to be either overly aggressive or effeminate. Biller admits, however, that fathers in intact U.S. households spend, on average, less than thirty minutes per day in one-on-one time with their children. (And the definition of "more varied social experiences"? Ah come on...)
Fact: "[C]hildren who have had no contact with their fathers in more than a year are more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities than children who have seen their fathers in the past year but whose fathers participated in none of the school activities. Part of the explanation for this pattern may be that children are spending time with their nonresident fathers instead of participating in extracurricular activities."
Fact: "Lessing, Zagorin, and Nelson (1970) found children in father-absent households had lower IQ, verbal, and performance scores than children in father-present households [but] Hunt and Hunt (1977) found race and class were factors in related variables such as aspirations, with lower income children having lower aspirations. According to Mott (1994), girls are more likely to be helped with poor school performance if the father is not in the home... Assessing intellectual functioning in relation to family structure is difficult at best... Although children of divorce experience disruption of academic performance in the aftermath, within two years most children return to their normal patterns of performance. Boys experience greater disruption and girls experience greater recovery of their academic performance... [G]irls' experience challenges to their emotional stability, but their school success is somewhat enhanced by father absence."
Fact: "Using data from four national surveys, Biblarz and Raftery (1999) show that mother-absence is much more detrimental than father-absence to children's educational and occupational attainment. They find that once parents' socioeconomic status is taken into account, children raised by single mothers are much better off than children raised by single fathers or fathers and stepmothers, and are just as likely to succeed as children raised by both birth parents. Biblarz and Raftery conclude that the pattern of effects across family types and over time is consistent with an evolutionary perspective which emphasizes the importance of the birth mother in the provision of children' resources (Trivers 1972). According to this view, children raised by their birth mothers do better than children raised apart from their birth mothers. Furthermore, being raised by a single birth mother is better than being raised by a birth mother and step father since step fathers compete with children for mother's time and lower maternal investment."
Fluff -- Baby Boomer men say that being a good father is important to their definition of "success."
Fact: What some men say they think defines neither "good fathering" nor "success." This is not a "positive effect of fatherhood."
Fluff -- Gallup Poll says that most Americans believe "fathers make a unique contribution to their children's lives."
Fact: The myths people believe do not constitute a "positive effect of fatherhood." (George Gallup is on the Board of Directors of the National Fatherhood Initiative.)
Fluff -- Fathers who don't care about their families are more likely to be fathers who don't support their families.
Fact: This is not a "positive effect of fatherhood." It's a circular statement of the "duh" variety.
Fluff -- Children are better off when their relationship with their father is close and warm.
Fact: "Better off" than... when they have a relationship with a father who is distant or cold? or in lieu of a relationship with a mother that is close and warm? or in lieu of no relationship at all? It's not stated. That's because this research compared different fathers and was not about fathers' contributions in the abstract. "[T]he great majority of children brought up in single-parent families do well. In particular, differences in well-being between children from divorced and those from intact families, tend, on average, to be moderate to small."
Fluff -- Children who have intelligent and interested fathers are likely to do better than children whose fathers are unintelligent, inarticulate, uninterested and/or boring.
Fact: Again, the above is not a "positive effect of fatherhood." It's a comparison of different fathers. However, father presence or absence per se "does not significantly influence the level of well-being of either daughters or sons. Rather... children's perceptions of their relationships with both parents have a more direct influence on their psychological well-being than does the physical presence or absence of their father."
Fluff -- Children from two-parent families do better in school, are less prone to depression and are more successful in relationships than children from one parent families.
Fact: Children from two-parent homes indeed appear to do better in some ways, especially ways that are influenced by socio-economic status, but serious design errors and methodological problems render many studies (such as the outdated study Horn quotes, above) that ostensibly show harm from father absence inconclusive, e.g. they shortchange the impact of family-related variables (socio-economic status, number of children, cause of parental absence, etc.) This notwithstanding, no study has found fathers' apparent contributions in two-parent households to carry over to nonresidential father involvement -- other than his economic contributions.
Fact: "Meta-analysis supports the notion that the impact of father absence appears to be mediated by family conflict; father absence in itself may not affect children's well-being. The family conflict perspective was strongly confirmed by the data. This perspective holds that children in intact families with high levels of conflict should have the same well-being problems as children of divorce, and the data supported this hypothesis."
Fact: "Critical to understanding child outcomes of divorce is viewing divorce as a process (Hetherington, Cox & Cox, 1978; Wallerstein, 1987) and not an isolated event in the life of the child. The process of divorce likely encompasses declining marital relations, a family context to which the child is exposed for an extended time. In the aftermath of the divorce the child's stressful familial experience may be culminated. Few studies have ascertained what children may have witnessed prior to the divorce, nor have they controlled for these factors when attempting to predict child outcomes from fathers' presence or absence. Predivorce conflict may have greater explanatory power in predicting child outcomes than changes in father residence and contact (Lamb, 1987)."
Fluff -- Father-child interaction promotes a child's physical well-being, perceptual abilities, and competency for relatedness with others, even at a young age.
Fact: So does positive interaction with anyone. "[T]he various patterns of coresidence did not differ from the children in intact families on the outcome measures, suggesting that during the initial adjustment period after marital dissolution, the absence of a father-figure or the presence of biological-father-substitutes appear to have no influence on most children's intellectual or psychosocial functioning."
Fluff -- Boys are more likely to cite their fathers as role models when they live with them than when they do not live with them.
Fact: As we would expect. (Just as whoever is the First Lady du jour gets on Americans' "most admired" lists.) This is not a "positive effect of fatherhood," and is meaningless in that regard without adding first the unwarranted assumption that there is something important about the father being the child's role model, rather than his mother, a beloved uncle, or someone else. Boys who hang out in gangs also are more likely to cite juvenile delinquent gang leaders as role models.
Fluff -- Children in intact homes with highly involved fathers do better than children in intact homes with non-highly involved fathers.
Fact: And at least in part this is because the children have inherited the same innate characteristics of their fathers that have contributed to these fathers' higher intelligence, compassion, and interest in their families. (Note that again, this is not a "positive contribution of fatherhood" but a comparison of different kinds of fathers -- and an implicit acknowledgement that some of them are not so hot.) "Analyses examining associations among father involvement, parenting characteristics, and toddler development demonstrated significant relationships... However, results highlighted the salience of qualitative characteristics (attitudes, behavioral sensitivity) rather than quantitative characteristics (amount of father's time with child) of parenting for toddler development."
Fact: Achiever-type people tend to have achiever-type kids. To a great extent, it's genetic. That's not special to "fatherhood" at all. Neither is involvement. Children will benefit from harmonious and complementary involvement of relatives, coaches, teachers, and so forth. While the research involving good and bad fathers in intact homes may indicate something about the negative effects of bad fathering, these claims offer nothing useful about "father involvement" for divorced and unwed homes.
Fluff -- Men who have had responsible fathers are more likely to become responsible fathers themselves.
Fact: "More likely than" who? than men who had alcoholic fathers who beat the crap out of them? than men who had irresponsible fathers who landed in prison? or than men who had only responsible mothers? (Research has eliminated the last possibility.) You are to assume from the misleading way this (and other statements similarly) have been worded by Horn that the comparison is to "father-absent" households. However, that's not true; the comparison is not stated because that was not the finding. None of these studies comparing different kinds of fathers (and boding against introducing the bad kind into children's lives, contrary to NFI initiatives) are "positive effects of fatherhood."
Fluff -- Children from intact homes with responsible fathers tend to be more successful as adults than children from intact homes with irresponsible fathers.
Fact: This also is a nonsensical statement. "More successful" than what? What was compared? Why were these fathers more responsible in these ways? Was it their genes and inherent characteristics (and did they pass them on)? family economics? role modeling? This is not a "positive effect of fatherhood" but yet another comparison of different kinds of fathers and an acknowledgement that some of them indeed do not benefit children. It's safe to say that children who are surrounded generally by more well-adjusted persons with more admirable traits will tend to do better than those who are not. Research comparing different kinds of fathers in intact homes offers nothing useful about fatherhood. Among other things, it leaves open the question of whether some fathers in fact are enhancing their children's well-being or whether the differences noted were because some fathers' involvement is harming that.
Fluff -- Children from intact homes with more successful fathers tend to be more successful as adults than children from intact homes with less successful fathers.
Fact: The consensus of research already has established (in accord with what we all have observed and already knew) that children from homes with higher socio-economic status and whose parents are more intelligent end up being higher achievers. Children's educational attainment, however, has been far more strongly correlated with their mother's socio-economic status and educational attainment than with father's. And again, this research merely compares different fathers. It says "fathers can have influence, just like other persons such as mothers, teachers, grandparents, and coaches who might contribute in some way to a child's education, contacts, genes, and so forth." This is not a "positive effect of fatherhood."
Misrepresentation -- Children who live with both parents are more likely to finish high school, become economically self-sufficient, and have a healthier life style than their peers who grow up in a broken home.
Fact: Children who live in even "inner city" households with more money are more likely to finish high school, become economically self-sufficient, and have a healthier lifestyle than children who grow up in impoverished homes. The homes of single teenage mothers, included here in the definition of "broken," skew the statistics in most "broken home" and "fatherlessness" studies. But it has nothing to do with father presence or absence. Another study "attempted to determine whether biological father presence made a difference in children's cognitive ability or behavioral adjustment and sought to find how many of the effects of father presence were explicable by referring to background or indirect effects such as economic provision... when maternal characteristics and family resources were controlled for, almost all of the impacts of father presence disappeared... almost all of the father's impact on the family is related to economic support."
Misrepresentation -- Children do better in school when their fathers are involved.
Fact: "[W]hen maternal characteristics and family resources were controlled for, almost all of the impacts of father presence disappeared... almost all of the father's impact on the family is related to economic support." In other words, when fathers are involved, that also correlates most of the time with the presence of mothers who are emotionally and financially supported and highly involved, making the difference.
Fact: "All of the protective factors except father involvement predicted behavior problem scores; children's sociability and attentiveness and the quality of the mother-child relationship predicted school readiness. Less harsh discipline [associated with mothers] was related to fewer behavior problems, while increased cognitive stimulation and maternal warmth were associated with increased school readiness."
Fact: Children raised by single fathers were less well behaved in the classroom. Teachers judged youths raised by a single father as less successful at getting along with others and as putting forth less effort in class. "It is well-known that there are a lot of problems associated with children who grow up in single-mother households... [b]ut our results suggest the problems aren't mainly due to the lack of a father... the problems rise more from the absence of a second parent in general, and the fact that single mothers are more likely to be disadvantaged in terms of income and other factors."
Offensive -- "White" children do better in school when their fathers are involved.
Fact: Apparently, above, the presence of minority fathers is not so beneficial. The finding could have been written up in quite an interesting alternate way. This old study notwithstanding, the far and away most powerful predictors of child educational attainment have been established by the research; they are the mother's education and household economic well-being (married or not.)
Fluff -- Children in intact families do better in school when their fathers are involved.
Fact: Mothers' education is a primary predictor of child well-being. Moreover, there is some indication that fathers' involvement follows children's successes (fathers become more interested under such circumstances), as much as influencing such successes.
Misrepresentation -- Girls do better at math when their fathers are involved (and also are more feminine).
Comment: Higher femininity in girls has been correlated with lower interest and achievement in mathematics and the hard sciences.
Fact: "[G]irls' ...[academic] success is somewhat enhanced by father absence."
Fact: The greatest predictors of child academic success are (1) the educational level of a child's mother and (2) the socioeconomic level of the home. (There also is a genetic component influencing native brain power and disposition in families in which fathers stay married to mothers, mothers have higher education, and there is a higher overall socioeconomic level.) When research isolates out the "father factor," the findings are that "adolescents from single father households are judged by teachers to be less well behaved and to show less effort in class. They also score slightly less than their single-mother counterparts on standardized tests, both verbal and math, and are perceived to be less academically qualified for college. Children raised by single fathers attain on average six months less education."
Misrepresentation -- Fathers are the most important factor for the development of empathy.
Fact: We really can't make this statement. In part, personality traits are genetic. Higher empathy also is correlated with persons who have suffered some in childhood. No studies have found that children reared by well-adjusted single mothers have less empathy than children reared in intact homes with involved well-adjusted fathers. This study found that the more empathetic children had fathers in their intact homes who in the 1960s were spending time caring for toddlers, i.e. fathers who themselves had unique personality traits including nurturing and empathy. The study argues in favor of the influence of parental genes; that's not about "fatherhood" or the unique contributions of fathers per se.
Fluff -- Empathetic, nurturing fathers pass on empathetic, nurturing qualities.
Fact: The statement is true, but it's fluff just the same, not a "positive effect of fatherhood." Both parents pass on to their children inherent characteristics. Two empathetic parents are more likely to have a child with their characteristics than unempathetic fathers coupled with either empathetic or unempathetic mothers. (See above study.) In effect, this study merely compares different kinds of fathers. Horn misrepresents when he implies that paternal involvement is a "cause" and not itself an "effect."
Fluff -- "White" children from single mother families whose fathers are not convicted criminals, alcoholics, or drug addicts -- and therefore not "absent" -- have lower incidences of delinquency, heavy drinking, and drug use than "white" children from the group of single mother families whose fathers are criminals, alcoholics, or drug addicts.
Fact: The hypothesized per se "absence" of the father correlation was not found for "nonwhite" children, indicating that it's not about father-presence or absence. It's not about father "involvement" but about the parental characteristics of the fathers who in pre-joint-custody days stayed around (and also the relatively higher socio-economic status of and financial support given to white mothers).
Fluff -- Studies reveal that even in high-crime, inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children from safe, stable, two-parent homes do not become delinquents.
Comment: What about the "unsafe" two-parent homes in high-crime neighborhoods? Isn't that by definition pretty much all of them?
Fact: "[T]he great majority of children brought up in single-parent families do well. In particular, differences in well-being between children from divorced and those from intact families, tend, on average, to be moderate to small."
Fact: "[C]onduct disorder was associated with maternal absence, low mother-adolescent contact, changes in the participants' living arrangements, and negative parental role models. While father absence was not statistically significant for this sample, the author found that 70% of negative parental role models were fathers. The author also argues that the extent to which adolescents associate with conduct disordered peers will have an effect on the youth's own conduct problems. The author recommends further research into maternal absence."
Fact: "Whether parents are chronically stressed or depressed often more powerfully influences a child's fate than whether there are two parents in a home or whether a family is poor."
Fact: "This perception that boys are in crisis is being fueled by psychotherapists and by the few horrifying cases... it is normal for people to think that some well-publicized behavior is common when it is in fact rare. This way of thinking is so normal that social psychologists have given it a name: "the availability heuristic." Indeed, the worry that boys today are emotionally crippled is powerfully contradicted by cross-cultural research showing that males and females are equally happy with their lives. In North America, in particular, the number of individuals of both sexes who view themselves as pretty happy or very happy is 90 percent."
Fluff -- When both boys and girls are reared with engaged fathers they demonstrate "a greater ability to take initiative and evidence self-control."
Comment: (Note that children reared during the Great Depression had to take more initiative and children reared in abusive households frequently learn extreme forms of self-control. Perhaps they had to -- "necessity is the mother of invention.") The statement also begs the question: "greater" than who or what -- children who are reared with "disengaged" fathers? Once again, the above statement is not a "positive effect of fatherhood."
Fact: "Also examined was whether the history of father involvement up to 1984 had any effect on youths' well-being in 1987. Indicators of well-being include measures of educational and employment attainment, whether or not the adolescent had a child before age 19, whether the adolescent had spent time in jail, and signs of depression. The presence of fathers at home and regular contact with fathers was found to have little to no effect on these well-being outcome measures in the bivariate analyses."
Misrepresentation -- Being from a two-parent family decreases the likelihood that girls will engage in premarital sex.
Fact: Girls 15-19 raised in homes with fathers are significantly more likely to become married as teenagers and to not complete college. In 1958 more teenage girls gave birth than in 1998. The only difference was that in 1958, most were married.
Fact: "Those subjects who reported unwanted sexual experiences rated their fathers' and mothers' views of women as significantly more traditional than subjects who had not reported such experiences. These data suggest that parents' attitudes about gender roles may be related to vulnerability and lead to unwanted sexual experiences."
Fact: "70% of the sexually active teenage girls studied had initiated sexual relations with male peers as a result of parental restrictions on activities and as a way to assert autonomy."
Fact: "[C]ompared to children living with only females after separation, children living with males in their household after separation" -- whether or not that male is the natural father or someone brought into the family by the child's mother-- "were more than 7 times more likely to be abused. Girls living with males in the household after separation are not only at a markedly higher risk for sexual abuse, but that risk is substantial: Bolen found that 53% were sexually abused."
Misrepresentation -- Children's self-image is affected most by how loving their fathers are to them; or how loving the fathers are toward the fathers' wives.
Fact: Findings of a survey of 98 female and 88 male students in grades 6 to 8 were that self-image was correlated with how loving the children's fathers were toward the children's mothers. (See studies regarding stepmothers.)
Fact: "[A] seven-year study by Dallas's Timberlawn Psychiatric Institute found the one factor that was the most important in helping children become healthy, happy adults, was the quality of the relationship between their parents. This one factor was more important than giving kids hugs, providing good discipline, building their self esteem, or any other aspect of what is traditionally considered 'good parenting'."
Misrepresentation -- "A study of 90 Oklahoma college students found that a strong attachment to fathers had a larger impact on young adult self esteem than attachment to their mothers."
Fact: Absolutely not. The research only hypothesized a correlation between self esteem and a higher attachment to fathers, comparing intact and single mother households, because of the correlations between self esteem and intact family homes, and that (as would be expected) there was higher attachment to resident fathers in intact families than to nonresident fathers of children of single parent homes. Given the many advantages of intact homes, including financial and social, the different histories and characteristics of parents who succeed in keeping their marriage together, and the good relationship between the two parents (a factor which HAS been demonstrated to be directly related to children's self-esteem and well-being), this hypothesis is wishful thinking.
Fluff -- In a sample of 455 adolescents, aged 14 to 19, "students who have higher self-esteem and lower depression reported having greater intimacy with their fathers."
Fact: There is no cause-effect relationship special to fathers. Persons with higher self-esteem and less depression tend to have better relationships in general with other persons. Another study that delved into determining what causative factors might bear on adolescents' well-adjustedness found that "conduct disorder was associated with maternal absence, low mother-adolescent contact, changes in the participant's living arrangements, and negative parental role models. While father absence was not statistically significant for this sample... 70% of negative parental role models were fathers."
Blather -- "A study on parent-infant attachment found that fathers who were affectionate, spent time with their children, and overall had a positive attitude were more likely to have securely attached infants..."
Fact: The statement is true, but it still is blather. It's likely about genetics, and that the fathers were married to and in good relationships with the primary caregiving mothers of those children. Subsequent studies also indicate that whether the father's attachment with the infant is secure largely is dependent upon whether the mother-infant attachment is secure.
Fluff -- "In a study of 75 toddlers it was found that children who were securely attached to their fathers were better problem solvers than children who were not securely attached to their fathers."
Lie -- "Children whose fathers spent a lot of time with them and who were sensitive to their needs were found to be better adapted than their peers whose fathers were not as involved and were less sensitive."
Fact: The first statement is nonsensically comparing fathers; the second statement is false. The researchers actually found that time spent with the father was irrelevant. "[R]esults highlighted the salience of qualitative characteristics (attitudes, behavioral sensitivity) rather than quantitative characteristics (amount of father's time with child) of parenting for toddler development."
Misinformation -- A study of Swedish infants found that those who were securely attached to their fathers were more sociable with strangers than their peers who were less attached to their parents.
Fact: A fathers'-interest study that advertised for self-selected interview participants, and skewed the definition of "primary caregiver" in order to best support the definition of stay-home fathers as fulfilling that role, found that a comparison of the nurturing roles in primary caregiving father and primary caregiving female families revealed marked differences between mothers and fathers. In the primary caregiving female family, the child most often turned to the mother for nurturing. In the primary caregiving father family, the child utilized both parents for nurturing, but still turned more often to the ostensibly "non-primary caregiving" mother. "While primary caregiving fathers may be "capable" of nurturing, the child preferred the working mother as often as the primary caregiving father when both were available. As a consequence, the working mothers were providing an equal share of the nurturing in primary caregiving father families. "
Blather -- "...six-month old babies whose fathers had been actively involved scored higher on the Bayley Test of Mental and Motor Development, and babies whose fathers were involved during the first eight weeks of life managed stress better during their school years."
Fact: Another study "surveyed] 646 employed women with children age 4 or younger about their childcare arrangements and, one year later, about their employment status... [W]omen whose husbands were the primary childcare providers while the women worked were more likely to have terminated their employment at the end of a year than were women using other childcare arrangements, including daycare centers, nonrelatives, and grandmothers or other relatives." (Go back and re-read the studies correlating mothers' socio-economic status and intelligence with children's academic success.)
Disinformation -- A study assessing the level of adaptation of one-year olds found that, when left with a stranger, children whose fathers were highly involved were less likely to cry, worry, or disrupt play than other one-year olds whose fathers were less involved.
Comment! danger! alert! The same results hold for this-age babies who are used to being left in daycare with high caregiver turnover and prolonged separations from their mothers. It's not necessarily an indication of well-adjustedness.
Blather -- "Premature infants whose fathers spent more time playing with them had better cognitive outcomes at age 3."
Fact: "Complete or optimal parenting is not limited to a particular familial structure... Optimal parenting may be defined as the rearing of a child in a nurturing, loving, and safe environment where skills and ideals are engendered that enable the child to be a happy, whole, contributing member of society. Using this definition, many family configurations, irrespective of parental residence of either gender, can achieve this end if given proper supports."
see liznotes on
WHAT IS A "FATHER" ?
101 FOR ATTORNEYS:
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
MAIN PAGE | COLLECTIONS
HISTORY LIBRARY | RESEARCH ROOMS
| THE READING ROOM
FATHERLESS CHILDREN STORIES | THERAPEUTIC JURISPRUDENCE | WOMAN SUFFRAGE TIMELINE | THE LIZ LIBRARY ENTRANCE
as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are copyright 1996-2009
the liz library. All rights
This site is hosted and maintained by argate.net Send queries to: sarah-at-thelizlibrary.org