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 # 339  

 June 2001




Fathers Count, Yet Many Count Them Out

by Amy Ridenour

 

The new Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has a family arrangement that shocks Americans.

Nineteen years ago, he and his wife, Kayoko Miyamoto, divorced. He took custody of their two older sons; his ex-wife, their youngest.

None of the children has seen their non-custodial parent since. The Prime Minister has refused his ex-wife's requests that she be allowed to see her two oldest sons. He has refused to meet his youngest son, despite the young man's requests. Media reports about the family often say the Prime Minister has but two sons.

None of this shocks the Japanese. In fact, a Japanese divorce expert told the Washington Post, "I'd be more surprised if there had been regular contact over the years."1 In 40% of Japanese divorce cases, children have no contact whatsoever with the noncustodial parent after a divorce, and in another 18% of cases, very little contact.2

This seems alien to Americans...

...or does it?

According to the Texas-based Center for Successful Fathering, 40% of American children with divorced parents have not seen their father in at least a year. Ten years after a divorce, more than two-thirds of children living with their mother haven't seen their father for a year.3

So Americans are more like the Japanese on this matter than we might like to think.

The United States has approximately 9.8 million single mothers and 2.1 million single dads.4 Only 74% of white children, 36% of black children and 64% of Hispanic children live in two-parent households.5 Fifty percent of all white children and 75% of all black children will spend at least part of their childhood living only with their mothers.6 In 1998, single parent households comprised 27% of households with children, up from 24% in 1990 and 11% in 1970.7

Experts say this matters. A lot.

Children with fathers are twice as likely to stay in school.8 Boys with two parents at home are half as likely to be incarcerated, regardless of their parents' income or educational level.9 Girls 15-19 raised in homes with fathers are significantly less likely to engage in premarital sex.10 Girls raised in single mother homes are more likely to give birth while single and are more likely to divorce and remarry. Girls whose fathers depart before their fifth birthday are especially likely to have permissive sexual attitudes and to seek approval from others.11 Paternal praise is associated with better behavior and achievement in school.12 Father absence increases vulnerability and aggressiveness in young children, particularly boys.13 Young children living without dads married to their moms are five times as likely to be poor and ten times as likely to be extremely poor.14 Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.15 Children living in households with fathers are less likely to suffer from emotional disorders and depression.16 When dads don't live with their kids, the children are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes when teens.17 A white teenage girl with an advantaged background is five times more likely to be a teen mom if she grows up in a household headed by a single mom instead of with both biological parents.18 Children with involved dads are less susceptible to peer pressure, are more competent, more self-protective, more self-reliant and more ambitious.19

What can be done to help children have positive relationships with both parents? A lot of it is personal. Whether mothers or fathers, we can lavish time and attention on our kids, and encourage others to do the same. We can marry before having children, think carefully about our choice of spouse before marrying, and avoid divorce whenever possible. If divorced with children, we can go the extra mile - and then some - to retain or establish cordial relations with our ex-spouse and to make visits with the non-custodial parent as pleasant and frequent as possible.

Institutions can and should do their part. Television plays an important role in shaping society's attitudes toward parenting, and could be a more positive force. According to a 2000 study by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), one-quarter of all fathers on television are portrayed negatively. The NFI says this overabundance of "bad dads" on television undermines the cultural ideal of responsible fatherhood.

Moreoever, says the NFI, by the time typical American children are six years old, they will have spent more time watching television than they will spend talking with their father over their entire lifetime. For millions of children the primary contact they have with the idea of a father is the time they spend watching television.20

Political groups can help. Feminist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) can stop viewing the advocacy of responsible fathering as an attack on women. NOW, for example, calls the National Fatherhood Initiative, an organization created to "confront the growing problem of father absence and to improve the well-being of children by increasing the number of children growing up with involved, committed, and responsible fathers in their lives"21 a "father custody organization"22 threatening to single mothers. Accordingly, NOW has opposed the nomination of NFI head Wade Horn, a child psychologist, to head the George W. Bush Administration's Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Children and Family Services.23 Feminists are misguided when they interpret advocacy of two involved parents as an attack on either parent.

A child with two involved parents is better off than a child with one. Few doubt this; yet many of us fail to live it. For the sake of the children, we should do better.

Fathers count. Let's stop counting them out.


Footnotes:

1 Kathryn Tolbert, "For Japanese, a Typical Tale of Divorce," The Washington Post, May 19, 2001, page A1.
2 Women's Data Book, published by a Japanese publisher of legal reference works, as cited in "For Japanese, a Typical Tale of Divorce," by Kathryn Tolbert, The Washington Post, May 19, 2001, page A1.
3 Ronald L. Klinger, Ph.D., "Addressing The Fatherlessness Trend," Center for Successful Fathering, Austin, Texas, downloaded from http://www.fathering.org/news/trend.html on May 22, 2001.
4 "Growth in Single Fathers Outpaces Growth in Single Mothers, Census Bureau Reports," Press Release, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 11, 1998; downloaded from the Census Bureau at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/cb98-228.html on May 22, 2001.
5 Barbara Kantrowki and Pat Wingert, "Unmarried, With Children," Newsweek, May 28, 2001.
6 Catherine Edwards, "Divorced Dads," Insight, June 18, 2001.
7 "Growth in Single Fathers Outpaces Growth in Single Mothers, Census Bureau Reports."
8 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, 1993, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
9 "What Does the Latest Research About Fathers Tell Us?" Child Trends press release summarizing the findings of Child Trends researchers in "What Policymakers Need to Know About Fathers," Policy & Practice (the Journal of the American Public Human Services Associations), December 1998, downloaded from http://www.childtrends.org/fathr199.htm on June 12, 1999.
10 John O. G. Billy, Karin L. Brewster and William R. Grady, "Contextual Effects on the Sexual Behavior of Adolescent Women." Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994): 381-404, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
11 Deborah J. Johnson, "Father Presence Matters: A Review of the Literature," 1997, National Center on Fathers and Families, Philadelphia, PA, downloaded from http://www.upenn.edu/gse/ncoff/fatherlink/org/ncoff/litrev/fpmlr.htm on June 12, 1999.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 "One in Four: America's Youngest Poor," National Center for Children in Poverty, 1996, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
15 "Survey on Child Health," National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
16 Johnson.
17 Warren R. Stanton, Tian P.S. Oci and Phil A. Silva, "Sociodemographic characteristics of Adolescent Smokers," The International Journal of the Addictions 7 (1994): 913-925, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
18 Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Facing the Challenges of Fragmented Families," The Philanthropy Roundtable, 1995, as quoted in "Consequences of Fatherlessness," National Center for Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathers.com/1999research/consequences.html on June 12, 1999.
19 "Promoting the Benefits of Involved Dads," 1996, 1997, Center for Successful Fathering, downloaded from http://www.fathering.org on June 12, 1999.
20 "Fatherhood and TV: An Evaluation Report," The National Fatherhood Initiative, Gaithersburg, Maryland, downloaded from http://www.fatherhood.org/ on May 22, 2001.
21 As described on the National Fatherhood Initiative website, http://www.fatherhood.org/, on May 22, 2001.
22 See "Fathers Count Bill to Fund Men's Custody Movement," Legislative Alert, National Organization for Women, downloaded May 22, 2001 from the NOW website at http://www.now.org/nnt/winter-2000/fathers-act.html.
23 Jennifer Harper, "Inside Politics," The Washington Times, May 18, 2001.

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Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].



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