When Dads Commit, Kids Benefit

February 27, 2014child_support, fathers, paternity

463398715_smFathers have a profound and far-reaching impact on their children, shaping everything from academic performance and impulse control to social development and the capacity for empathy. But while the research is clear on the importance of fathers, many children are in danger of growing up in father-absent families. In fact, a majority of births to women under 30 happen outside of marriage—and divorce rates for those who do marry have blown past 40 percent. Together, these trends have left 1 in 3 children without a biological father in the home—a significant disadvantage associated with higher rates of school dropout, behavioral problems, and teen pregnancy.

These are just some of the findings marshalled by Lois Collins and Marjorie Cortez on behalf of fathers and their historically undervalued role as co-parents in an article published this week in the Atlantic. As the authors make clear, though research has long noted the benefits of involved fatherhood, public policy has been slow to offer solutions geared toward troubled fathers themselves. “We have valued men as wallets more than as dads,” they write, quoting a recent commission report to the White House. As a result, fathers have found little to affirm their larger purpose as parents amidst the panoply of government programs historically stacked against them. But it’s not all bad news for today’s young dads. At the federal level, recent efforts have been made to create father-focused policies around paternal involvement, job training, and healthy-marriage initiatives. And organizations like STRIVE International, the Annie E Casey Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation have stepped in with new male-focused initiatives of their own.

Discussions around the importance of involved fatherhood and how policy should respond to the challenges of today’s dynamic families intersect with the heart of CFRP’s research and policy agenda.  Drawing on survey data collected from two statewide cohorts of Texas mothers, CFRP developed a series of research briefs exploring the intersection of nonmarital childbirth, parental relationships, father involvement, and support. The latest brief in this series, Fathers in the First Few Months, takes stock of how fathers are involved with their children shortly after a nonmarital birth, and considers how policy might play a role in bettering the prospects of today’s most at-risk children.

– by Daniel Dillon, Staff Research Associate

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[Updated March 2014] For the entire series of related briefs:

  1. Who Establishes Paternity? 
  2. Why Parents Establish Paternity
  3. Fathers in the First Few Months: A Study of Unmarried Fathers and Their Children
  4. How Unmarried Fathers Support Their Children