Do Fathers Really Matter?: Father Involvement and Social-Psychological Outcomes for Adolescents. Draft.

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Carlson, M. J.
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This working paper explores the role of fathers and father-child relationships in the psychosocial development of adolescents by examining outcomes data from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) files on children and mothers. The survey uses a number of measures to evaluate child development and well being; other characteristics of children and mothers; information about family structure and household makeup; family income, home environment, and other sociodemographic factors; as well as children's perceptions of their mother, father, and or/step father. The initial survey was conducted in 1979 among 6,300 mothers between the ages of 14 and 21 years. A 1988 self-administered youth supplement gathered information about parent-child relationships; family decisionmaking; peer relationships; mood prevalence; religious attendance; and various delinquent activities including use of cigarette, alcohol, and illegal drugs. Responses from 1,685 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14 are included in the current data. The results concur with other research that fathers have an important influence on adolescents and adolescent behaviors. Involvement by biological fathers improves behavioral outcomes of adolescents regardless of whether they live with them. Behavior problem scores typically are lower when biological fathers are highly involved. A number of study limitations are examined, and the author emphasizes the need for additional research to better assess the relationship between a father's presence in the home, his behavior towards his children, and how his involvement is viewed by adolescent children. Despite its limitations, the research has implications for public policy regarding fathers, single families, child support, and welfare reform legislation, especially with regard to the need for personal involvement, in addition to financial contribution, to the welfare and development of noncustodial adolescents. Numerous references, 17 footnotes.

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