Study Shows Importance of Fathers
The Institute for Family Studies found that having a biological father in the home is a meaningful predictor of boys' outcomes.
A new study from the Institute for Family Studies found that having a biological father in the home is a meaningful predictor of boys’ outcomes in areas ranging from criminal behavior to college graduation.
The report, co-authored by Brad Wilcox, Wendy Wang, and Alysse ElHage, used national survey data to track young men through four stages of life, comparing the outcomes of those who grew up with and without biological fathers. The authors found significant differences between the two groups in arrests, rates of incarceration, educational attainment, and idleness, even after controlling for factors like family income, race, maternal education, and intelligence.
The number of fatherless homes has exploded in the last half century. In 1960, 17 percent of boys lived apart from their biological father; today, that figure is 32 percent, meaning 12 million boys in the United States are growing up without their biological fathers.
As the report found, those boys are more likely to be incarcerated or arrested, less likely to finish college, and more likely to be unemployed than peers who grew up with their fathers in the home.
More than 20 percent of the men in the sample group who were raised without a biological father in the home had been incarcerated by the ages of 28 through 34. For men in the sample who grew up with their father in the home, however, that figure was 10 percent. The report’s authors indicated that the link between fatherlessness and incarceration remained “strong and statistically significant even after controlling for family income, race, maternal education, age, and AFQT [general-knowledge test] scores.”
The differences in educational attainment between men who grew up with their biological fathers and those who did not are similarly stark. Of the men in the sample who grew up without their fathers, only 14 percent graduated from college, compared to 35 percent from the group who grew up with their father in the home. Even after controlling for race, familial income, maternal education, age, and an intelligence proxy, men who grew up with their fathers were twice as likely to graduate college as those who did not.
Finally, idleness—the state of being neither employed nor in school—was significantly more prevalent among men who grew up fatherless. The group of men who grew up without their biological fathers were twice as likely to be idle in their mid-twenties as were men whose fathers were present in their childhood home, again controlling for factors like race, intelligence, and familial income.
We’ve known for a long time that family structure matters. The fact that it matters was one of the defining findings of 20th-century American social science. We know instinctually that fathers, in particular, matter—that boys who grow up without a male role model in the home are given to violence and disorder. This study helps to make the empirical case for that which we already knew to be true.