Thursday, December 8, 2011

Father Absence Affects Sons More than Daughters?

A new working paper  recently discussed in the Freakonomics blog, and which looks at the relationship between the absence of fathers from the home and juvenile delinquency, suggests that the presence of fathers, while beneficial for both sons and daughters, may be much more beneficial for sons than daughters.  The working paper finds, among other things, that "adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives.  However, adolescent girls' behavior is largely independent of the presence (or absence) of their fathers."  

Of course, we should always view claims of findings from such social "science" reports with a healthy dose of skepticism.  A commenter on the Freakonomics blog named Todd makes the good point that this new study may be missing some important factors, especially as previous biological evidence shows father absence early in life may affect daughters by dramatically altering the age at which they get their first period. I would add that longitudinal studies in the United States and New Zealand have previously shown that father absence is strongly correlated with a higher risk for daughters of early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy.

However differently father absence may affect daughters versus sons, what is clear is that father presence has positive effects and father absence has negative effects - that is the common denominator of all studies to date, including this latest one.  And while that may seem self-evident to most of us, it is not uniformly understood or believed due to the sad pervasiveness of men bashing in certain circles.

Father absence and its effects on children - both sons and daughters - should concern us all, as we have gone from a nation, here in the US, with 8 percent of children living in mother-only homes in 1960 to one with fully 23 percent living in such homes in 2010, according to the US Census bureau.  I hope more such studies will be done, and that more of us will pay attention to them and the issues they raise.

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website.

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