This weekend, many Americans will be scouring stores for the latest tech toys or tools to express their gratitude to Dad this Father’s Day. While many will thank their fathers for the memories of fishing trips and driving lessons, the benefits of a father’s care and concern extend far beyond sports knowledge and handy-man skills.
As research on Heritage’s FamilyFacts.org demonstrates, a father’s presence and involvement can have a significant impact on his child’s social, economic, and relational well-being. Adolescents who spend leisure time with their fathers, eat meals together, and ask for Dad’s help with homework tend to earn better grades in school. Close father–teen bonds also help counteract the negative influence of peer pressure to use drugs, and they decrease the likelihood of early sexual activity among adolescents.
A father’s presence in the home can even affect a child’s physical health. Children living in married, mother-father households are almost half as likely to have ever been diagnosed with or still have asthma as peers living in mother-only or parentless households. Likewise, teens who report having a positive relationship with their fathers exhibit fewer behavioral problems and lower levels of psychological stress.
The economic benefits of having a dad in the house can be profound. Married family households tend to have higher median incomes and greater assets, and they are more likely to be homeowners than other single-parent families. Moreover, parents choosing to tie the knot can decrease a child’s risk of living in poverty by about 80 percent.
However, fewer American children experience the comforts of being raised with the consistent presence of both parents. In 1960, just a few years before the first official Father’s Day, a little over 5 percent of children were born to single women. Today, that number is over 40 percent.
With the unmarried birth rate high among young, undereducated women, single-mother households now comprise more than half of all families living in poverty. Without the relative financial stability marriage can provide, single parents and their children are at greater risk of government dependence. Of the roughly $400 billion spent in 2010 on welfare funding to low-income families with children, almost three-quarters went to single-parent—and often fatherless—households.
Thankfully, there are ways that individuals, community leaders, and policymakers can help alleviate childhood poverty and promote the many benefits of married, mother-father households. By encouraging marriage in low-income communities, teaching adolescents and young adults the economic and social benefits of marriage, and reducing policy disincentives to marriage, more children can avoid the pain of absent fathers and the risks of poverty.