NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Paternal Involvement Increases College Graduation Rates

April 30, 2014

Teenagers with involved fathers are significantly more likely to graduate from college, says Bradford Wilcox, associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of Virginia and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

While there have been a number of studies linking fathers with their children's welfare, few have actually looked at paternal involvement and its impact on college graduation. Wilcox pulled data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which looked at American students in grades 7 through 12 during the 1994-1995 school year, finding that young adults with involved fathers were much more likely to graduate from college:

  • Eighteen percent of teenagers in the Add Health study responded that their fathers were not involved in their lives at all.
  • For the rest, Wilcox used a paternal involvement scale -- which looked at various activities such as playing sports with children, or helping them with their homework, or discussing personal problems with them -- to rank the students as ones with "somewhat involved," "involved" or "highly involved fathers.
  • Teenagers with involved fathers were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college than teens who reported that their fathers were not involved. Those with very involved fathers were 105 percent more likely to graduate from college.
  • Father involvement mattered most significantly for young adults from moderately and highly educated households.
  • Moreover, students whose parents were married were more likely to report their fathers as being "involved" or "highly involved." This was the case, Wilcox found, regardless of the educational attainment of the students' parents.

Why is paternal involvement so linked with a college degree? Wilcox offers four possible reasons:

  • Involved fathers may provide their children with homework help or other knowledge that helps them become academically successful.
  • Involved fathers may help children stay on the right track and steer away from risky behaviors that could prevent them from completing college.
  • Involved fathers may also help to create an authoritative family environment conducive to learning.
  • Involved fathers may be more likely to support their children financially.

Source: W. Bradford Wilcox, "Dad and the Diploma: The Difference Fathers Make for College Graduation," American Enterprise Institute, April 22, 2014.


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