Students from fatherless families have a greater risk of academic and behavioral problems.
I. The Decline of the American Family
II. The Cost of Fatherlessness
III. The Increase in Single-Parent Families
More Births Out of Wedlock
High Divorce Rate
IV. Guiding Principles for Strengthening Traditional Families
V. The Need to Strengthen Traditional Families
“In comparison to children living with both biological parents, children living with a single mother score
lower on academic achievement tests, have lower grades, [and] have a higher incidence of behavioral problems … .”
– David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, Wayward Sons: The Emerging
Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education, Rep. Third Way, n.d.
Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
“Married fathers can have an especially significant impact on their children’s success in school. Children raised in intact, married families fare far better than children from divorced or single-parent homes.”
– Sarah Torre, “Fathers Matter: Involved Dads Get an A+ for
Increasing Academic Achievement.” Daily Signal. N.p., 14 June 2011.
Education begins in the home. Numerous studies show that children living with married parents have a great advantage for academic achievement. Despite the millions of dollars poured into improving failing schools and raising graduation rates, the absence of a father in the home is a factor that simply cannot be overcome by money alone.
Students from single-parent families have an increased risk of dropping out of high school before getting a diploma. In the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), for example, 29 percent of students from fatherless families dropped out of high school, compared to 15 percent of students who lived with both their birth mother and biological father. The doubled dropout rate was found after controlling for other risk factors that often accompany fatherlessness, such as low parent education and family income levels.30
While there are no Massachusetts-specific statistics on the percentage of children from fatherless families who drop out of school, we can infer that they suffer much the same disadvantages as their counterparts across the nation. For example, having to repeat on or more grades in school is a frequent precursor to dropping out.31 In the National Survey of Children’s Health, 30 percent of Massachusetts schoolchildren ages 6 to 17 who lived with never-married single mothers had repeated a grade. This was eight times the rate of grade repetition among Massachusetts schoolchildren who lived with both biological parents or with two adoptive parents – 3.7 percent.32
The current high school dropout rate for Massachusetts is 6 percent.33 When we turn our attention to the Massachusetts cities with the highest rates of fatherlessness, we see that the high school dropout rates there are correspondingly elevated. Springfield, Fall River, and New Bedford, the Massachusetts cities with the highest rates of fatherlessness, also have the highest dropout rates, at 21, 22 and 25 percent respectively.34
In addition to having higher dropout rates, students from fatherless families tend to have less parental involvement in their schooling. This is evidenced by a decrease in attending PTA meetings, school plays, sports events, or science fairs, and not volunteering at the school or serving on committees.35 The National Household Education Survey found, in a national sample of parents with adolescent children in grades 6-12, that only 14 percent of parents from mother-only families reported high levels of school involvement, compared with 33 percent of those from mother-father families. A 54 percent majority of the parents from mother-only families showed low levels of school involvement, compared with 34 percent of parents from two-parent families who did so.36
When schools do have contact with single-parent homes, it is often to address disciplinary problems. In the National Survey of Children’s Health, 43 percent of Massachusetts schoolchildren ages 6 to 17 who lived with never-married single mothers had one or more problems at school that led to the school’s contacting the parent. Among schoolchildren living with divorced or separated mothers, 36 percent had one or more problems resulting in the school’s contacting the parent. Both of these groups had higher rates of parent contact than was found among Massachusetts schoolchildren who lived with both biological parents – 25 percent. Controlling for age, sex, race, and parent education level reduced the disparity in contact rates somewhat, but the students with never-married, separated, or divorced mothers still had significantly higher contact rates than students who lived with both biological parents.37
Likewise, in the National Household Education Survey, students from mother-only families or stepfamilies were twice as likely to have been suspended from school as students from mother-father families. After adjustment for parent education, family income, race, and parent involvement, students from mother-only families and stepfamilies were still twice as likely to be suspended as those from two-parent families.38
For students who do graduate from high school, their chances of enrolling in and then graduating from college are less if they come from fatherless families than if they come from two-parent families. In a study based on the second National Survey of Families and Households, for example, 61 percent of students from mother-father families who graduated from high school went on to enroll in college, compared with 49 percent of high school graduates from mother-only families. Subsequently, 37 percent of the students from two-parent families got a bachelor’s degree, compared with 17 percent of the students from fatherless families.39
Not completing high school has a long-term impact on a young person’s chances for stable employment and his or her prospects for earning a living wage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in 2016 for workers 25 years old and older who had less than a high-school education was 42 percent higher than for workers who had a high school diploma. And it was more than twice as high as the unemployment rate for workers who had an associate’s degree – 3.6 percent. The median weekly earnings in 2016 for full-time wage and salary workers with less than a high school education was $504. That’s only 73 percent of the weekly earnings for a worker with a high school diploma ($692) and just 62 percent of the weekly earnings for workers with an associate’s degree ($819).40
Conclusion: One of the root causes of “income equality” is educational disparity. Young people who fail to obtain a high school diploma are far more likely to have difficulty finding employment and more vulnerable to falling below the poverty level. The economic and familial stability of marriage gives children more opportunity and choice in education and puts them on the path to success.41