The Father Effect: More Relational Than Material

Nov 5, 2020 by

by Michael Jindra, Institute for Family Studies:

We know from a large body of research that fathers are important for the well-being of families. But exactly how do fathers positively affect their children? Is it mainly from the material support that fathers (and another income) can often provide, or does a father’s very presence have an effect? A new study in Social Service Review seems to indicate the latter. A team of researchers looked specifically on how father involvement affected  adolescent behavior, which is a good indicator of future well-being and success, over a 10-year period starting at age 5.

A simulation based on their data indicates that increasing father involvement among lower socio-economic status (SES) families reduces gaps in behavior outcomes (e.g. aggression, depression, delinquency) with higher SES families by 30–50% for children with nonresident fathers and by 80% for children with resident fathers. The study shows the effects are long lasting, with a father’s earlier life presence having a significant impact on latter adolescent behavior. In other words, kids who are having trouble in their teens often lacked a fatherly presence earlier in their lives, not only during their teen years. Cash support—formal or informal—had little effect. It was the social engagement of the fathers that made the big difference.

Our own research on social service agencies highlights the effects of personal relationships. Many people suffer trauma from relationship instability, including the absence of fathers, that goes back to childhood. This often hobbles people for the rest of their lives. Material support certainly helps, but the trauma makes it hard for people to have good executive function. Family patterns learned or observed in childhood may also make it more difficult for people to break dysfunctional habits. Often, people have trouble managing their lives and end up unable to handle the resources they do have, though personal, relational assistance from social service agencies can help people right themselves.

Unfortunately, there is still widespread ignorance about the importance of nonmaterial factors. Funding Agencies, such as the influential Gates Foundation, overlook the influence of families.

Read here

See also: Poly Parenting and the Value of the Familyby Matthew Lee Anderson, Public Discourse

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