Growing Up Without a Father.

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McLanahan, S.
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The passions surrounding the public discourse about the effects of father absence inhibit an objective analysis of the well-being of children in a variety of single-parent situations. This chapter presents data from several national studies about risk factors for children in different living arrangements. The statistics indicate that problems such as dropping out of high school and teen pregnancy exist in two-parent, as well as single parent families. Outcomes also vary according to family characteristics and do not necessarily reflect common assumptions about the disadvantages faced by minority families. For example, Hispanic children without co-resident fathers are more likely to fail in school than White children from disrupted families, who are more likely to fail than Black children from single parent families. Other assumptions about the well-being of children living with single mothers also have been proven wrong by statistics. Children living with mothers who have been widowed have better outcomes than children living with other types of single mothers because of the social benefits provided to these families and the lack of parental conflict. Children in step-families have similar drop-out rates to children in single-parent families, indicating that remarriage does not reduce risks for children. However, the evidence does indicate that children who are not residing with their biological father are at higher risk because of the loss of economic and emotional support. The causes of fatherlessness are related to demographic trends, such as the number of young women with the potential to become unwed mothers, the economic independence of women, and the increasing acceptance of divorce. However, the increase in the number of single-parent families does not correlate with welfare benefits, as some conservatives suggest. Recommendations for promoting child well-being include support for families to prevent separation and divorce, enforcing child support from noncustodial parents, and expanding public assistance for poor single-parent families. 11 notes, 1 figure, 4 tables.

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