The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Difference Fathers Make

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The progressive thinkers who gave us guilt-free fornication and easy divorce never seemed to worry about the consequences when their social enthusiasms sentenced tens of millions of children into fatherless homes. But the mountain of research documenting the difficulty of growing up without a father just grew a bit higher with a study into the kind of family relationships that predict behavior problems among young adolescents. Conducted by psychologists at the University of Oregon, this study indicates clearly that children with weak ties to their fathers—typically children growing up in single-parent homes—are particularly prone to such behavioral problems.

Tracking 179 ethnically diverse young adolescent students (54 percent male, 46 percent female) from sixth through eighth grade, the Oregon researchers discerned a clear relationship between these young people’s family life and their behavior: “father–youth connectedness,” the researchers report, “was associated with decreases in youths’ problem behavior from 6th to 8th grade.” Indeed, this statistical linkage between father-connectedness and behavior persisted even in sophisticated statistical models accounting for differences in social and economic background. The researchers further explain that “the nature of associations between father–youth connectedness and youths’ outcomes did not differ by gender.” Interestingly, the researchers found that “mother–youth connectedness” was not a significant predictor of change in youths’ problem behavior, even in simple bivariate correlations.

Not surprisingly, the adolescent boys and girls who enjoy the strongest connection to their fathers—and who consequently improve the most in their behavior—are found in intact families. “Youths living with their biological fathers,” the researchers report, “felt more connected to them than did those who did not” (p < 0.01).

The researchers stress the importance of their findings because the young-adolescent period under scrutiny is “a period of increased risk for youths’ engagement in antisocial behaviors, substance use, and affiliation with deviant peers.” At a time when progressives’ Age-of-Aquarius fantasies continue to separate millions of young people from their fathers, Americans can expect to see a distressing number of young adolescents slashing tires, smoking marijuana, and joining gangs.

(Gregory M. Fosco et al., “Family Relationships and Parental Monitoring During Middle School as Predictors of Early Adolescent Problem Behavior,” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 41.2 [March 2012]: 202–13.)