What We Know About Fathers and Child Well-being: A Scan of Current Research

Publication Date
October 17, 2019

Research on fatherhood has come a long way over the last 30 years. Fathers today are recognized more and more as caregivers, playmates, and nurturers–not just economic providers . NRFC's new research scan Father and Child Well-Being: A Scan of Current Research summarizes what fatherhood looks like today, as well as what fatherhood means for fathers’ and children’s well-being. Here’s a quick overview of some of the key points.

Characteristics of U.S. Fathers

About 75 million men age 15 and over in the United States are fathers to biological, step, or adopted children, and almost sixty percent (60%) of men age 15 and older are the biological fathers of at least one child.

Most fathers who have children under age 18 live with their children, and more fathers are their child’s sole caretaker than in the past.

A father’s age, education, and race shape their experiences as fathers.

  • The older a father is when his first child is born, the more likely he is to live with all of his minor children.
  • The more education a father has, the more likely he is to live with all of his minor children.
  • White and Hispanic fathers are more likely than black fathers to live with all of their minor children.

Fourteen percent (14%) of fathers have children with more than one partner, which can present challenges that affect their access to and involvement with their children.

What Fatherhood Means for Children’s and Men’s Well-Being

Fathers play an important role in their children’s development and well-being, from birth through adulthood. For children, having an involved father increases the likelihood that they will experience positive education, health, self-esteem, and social outcomes.

  • Compared to children raised in two-parent homes, children raised in father-absent homes are at greater risk of poverty, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, behavioral problems, child abuse and neglect, and dropping out of high school.

Positive father involvement is also linked to better outcomes for fathers themselves. Among men, being a father is linked with increased wages and work effort and improved mental, emotional, and physical health.

Importantly, despite these positive effects for fathers and children, fathers are less likely than mothers to say they are doing a good job raising their kids.

How Can Practitioners Help?

Fatherhood presents many opportunities for involvement in children’s lives; however, being a father is not without its challenges. Practitioners can support fathers by listening to them, understanding the challenges they and their families face, and helping them identify their needs, strengths, and opportunities for success. As they identify these needs and strengths , practitioners can help fathers build their skills and connect them with appropriate resources, services, and supports.

To better understand what fatherhood looks like today, download the full version of Father and Child Well-Being: A Scan of Current Research.

Also, take a look at some of the other NRFC resources for practitioners and fathers. For example, Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit: Resources from the Field can strengthen practitioners’ efforts to improve the lives of families in their communities, and resources for fathers include information on ways to stay more involved with your children and a list of responsible fatherhood programs throughout the United States.

Author: Alison McClay and Elizabeth Karberg, Child Trends

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