David Popenoe, Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University published a best selling book ‘Life without Father’ (1996) based on his research findings on the dangers of fatherlessness. This paper was adapted from his book and presented at the conference ‘Fatherhood and Motherhood in a diverse and changing world, 1997
The increasing percentage of children living apart from their natural fathers is an unpredicted, and not widely discussed, trend. Fatherlessness is a major force behind many disturbing U.S. social problems. The institution of marriage acts as culture’s chief vehicle to bind men to their children. The absence of fathers from children’s lives is one of the most important causes of problems related to children’s well-being such as increasing rates of juvenile violent crime, depression and eating disorders, teen suicide, and substance abuse. The economic difficulties experienced by mother-headed families ultimately account for many of the disadvantages found among fatherless children. Fathers make unique contributions to child rearing, including a parenting style different from mothers and an emphasis on play, which facilitates normal emotional development. The largest negative consequence of father absence is juvenile delinquency and violence, and early sexual activity. Marriage and childrearing act as extremely important civilizing forces for men; when there are large numbers of young, unattached males concentrated in one place, there are increases in social disorder. It is necessary to undo the cultural shift toward radical individualism to restore marriage and reinstate fathers in their children’s lives. Changes in the attitudes and actions of employers, religious leaders, family scholars, marriage counselors, legislators, and the entertainment industry could strengthen the institution of marriage. Fathers’ role must be redefined to involve full engagement in their children’s development from the beginning.
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