Father Absence and Child Well-Being

A Critical Review

The American Family has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. The preferred union of young adults is living together rather than marriage; pre-marital sex and non-marital childbearing have become increasingly acceptable; and divorce rates have recently flattened at very high levels. These changes generate concern because, as a large body of research indicates, they have a deleterious impact on children, families and society as a whole. In this article, authors Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan review what is known about the extent to which children raised in single mother families are disadvantaged relative to their peers and whether this disadvantage persists beyond childhood. They begin with a brief discussion of the trends, such as the rise in divorce rates, which have contributed to current state of affairs. Then the authors discuss various outcomes demonstrated in research to be associated with father absence. These include adverse outcomes in academic performance, psychological health, delinquent behavior, economic well-being and adult relationships. In terms of explaining these outcomes, the authors examine three main perspectives: selection into father absence, the socialization deficit of parental loss perspective and the life course perspective. They discuss findings that both support and contradict each theory - no one theory fully explains the adverse impact of father absence on effected children.