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June 19th, 2011

Fatherhood 2011: A Disturbing Picture

By Patti Brown

As Americans gather to celebrate Father’s Day today, a report released this past week by the Pew Research Center, A Tale of Two Fathers: More Are Active, but More are Absent, presents a disturbing picture of fatherhood in America today.

One part of the report analyzes the degree of involvement biological fathers who both do and who do not live with their kids have in their children’s lives. The other part addresses the increasing number of men 18 to 44-years of age who are fathers and whose children have been born out of wedlock. One of the key findings is that a large segment of the population (31%) does not think a father in the home is essential to a child’s happiness.

Nearly half (46%) of all men 18 to 44-years of age who are biological fathers report that at least one of their children was born out of wedlock. Additionally, nearly a third (31%) says that all of their children have been born outside of marriage, and 17% of these men have fathered children with more than one woman.

One of the principle causes of child poverty in the U. S. today is the absence of a married father in the home. In 2009, single-parent female-headed households had a poverty rate of 37.1% compared with 6.7% for married two-parent households, according to the American Community Survey, a data set regularly released by the U.S. Census Bureau. And according to a December 2010 National Vital Statistics Report generated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 41% of all births in the U.S. occur outside of marriage. Children born to a single mother have an 82% greater chance of living in poverty than those born to married parents.

The Pew report indicates that the younger a father is, the more likely he is not married to the mother of his children. Three-quarters (76%) of biological dads 20 to 24-years old have children born outside of marriage; almost two thirds (62%) of biological dads who are 25 to 29-years old have children born out of wedlock; and half (50%) of biological dads 30 to 34-years old have children born out of wedlock.

Along with age, race and ethnicity are important factors in out of wedlock fatherhood. While 37% of white fathers have had a child born out of wedlock, 72% of black men who are biological fathers have a child out of wedlock as do 59% of Hispanic biological fathers.

According to A Tale of Two Fathers, married fathers with children 18 and younger spend on average 6.5 hours a week caring for, teaching and playing with their children compared to fathers in 1965 who spent on average 2.6 hours a week in these activities. Contrasting the time married mothers and married fathers spend with their children, mothers today with children under 18 spend on average 12.9 hours engaged in parenting activities compared with mothers in 1965 who spent 10.6 hours.

Although married fathers with children 18 and younger are more engaged in direct care and parenting than their cohorts were four decades ago, more than a quarter (27%) of fathers today do not live with their children. This contrasts with U.S. Census Bureau data from 1960 when 11% of fathers did not live with their children. More than a quarter (27%) of the fathers who do not live with their children today did not see their kids once during the past year.

According to the report, biological fathers today who live with their children 18 years of age and younger are actively engaged in caretaking, teaching and playing with their children. Men who do not live full-time with their children report less involvement, though 22% of these dads see their children at least once a week if not more and 29% see their children up to four times a month. To compensate for a lack of face time, 41% of fathers who do not live with their kids call and email their kids.

With so many fathers playing such a peripheral or non-existent role in the lives of their children, it is little wonder that the public has grown increasingly accustomed to and accepting of the single-mother household, despite the fact that it places women and children at such a high risk of poverty. The economic, child welfare and public policy consequences of continued high rates of out of wedlock fatherhood cannot continue to be ignored, nor should it be assumed that the trend is irreversible.

(Data for the Pew report was drawn from two sources, Cycle 7 of the National Survey of Family Growth, an interview survey conducted between 2006 and 2010 by the National Center for Health Statistics, and telephone interviews conducted by the Pew Research Center between May 26-29 and June 2-5, 2011. The confidence level of both data sets is 95%.

To read the complete Pew Research Center Report, Click Here.

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About the Author

Polly Twocents
Polly Twocents is the pseudonym for the political commentary of Patti Brown, a partner in the Iowa Policy Institute, a research and analysis firm specializing in public policy issues. Patti is an Iowa mother of five who has a masters degree in journalism with a minor in political science from Iowa State University and an masters in social work from the University of Iowa. Patti worked for many years as a social worker in hospital, hospice and mental health settings. In addition she has also been a staff writer and columnist for The Catholic Mirror and a writer for The Des Moines Register. She is unabashedly and consistently pro-life and pro-family. As a bleeding heart conservative, Patti believes in a limited, representative government, personal responsibility, individual opportunity, and free enterprise.

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