NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Absent Fathers

January 18, 2002

The best predictor of father presence or absence is marital status, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.

  • More than one-third of American children, 24 million or 34 percent, live in homes without their biological father.
  • Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
  • Over 3.3 million children live with an unmarried parent and the parent's cohabiting partner.

The absence of their father can have profound effects on children. Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

On the other hand, children with involved fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy and criminal activity than children with uninvolved fathers.

Source: "Top 10 Father Facts," Fatherhood Today, Fall 2001, from Wade F. Horn and Tom Sylvester, "Father Facts, 4th ed.," National Fatherhood Initiative, 101 Lake Forest Boulevard Suite 360 Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877, (301) 948-0599.


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