Recent social commentary has heralded men’s supposedly diminished role in American society and families. One piece went so far as to proclaim the “end of men.” But as Mark Twain might say, reports of the death of men have been greatly exaggerated.
As Father’s Day 2011 approaches, it’s a good time to reconsider the evidence as to why. Decades of academic research show that the father’s role in the family has a powerful and long-term impact on the future of the next generation.
In terms of economic well-being, children who grow up in homes where both parents are present are 82 percent less likely to live in poverty. Intact families tend to fare better in a wide range of economic measures; on average they have a higher net worth, higher income, more household assets, and greater savings.
A father’s role goes far beyond that of breadwinner, however, influencing his children’s well-being, behavior, and futures, which can have a profound impact on the health of civil society. Married fathers especially can have life-long influences on their children.
Youths growing up with both a mother and father in the home are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior. They are also less likely to become sexually active or to give birth in high school or outside of marriage. In addition, with both a mom and a dad in the home, adolescents are less likely to be involved with substance abuse such as drug and alcohol use and binge drinking.
The two-parent family, likewise, provides a safeguard against delinquent and anti-social behavior. On average, youths living with both parents are less likely to engage in violent behavior, commit a property crime, or be incarcerated.
In addition, teens with both moms and dads at home tend to fare better on a range of emotional and psychological outcomes: They tend to experience better emotional health and have higher levels of self-esteem and social competence, and they are less likely to experience psychological distress and anxiety.
Given all of the above, it is not surprising that children raised by married fathers tend to have greater academic achievement and higher levels of educational attainment, and they tend to score higher in math and reading in even the earliest grades.
And fathers’ impact goes beyond the effects of family structure. Dads’ involvement and relationship with their children is associated with greater psychological well-being, lower levels of behavioral problems, greater educational attainment, and a decrease in the likelihood of teen substance use.
Don’t let this coming Father’s Day be the only occasion to thank all the dads out there who—far from being irrelevant—continue to serve as a bulwark and beacon in their families and society.