The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children

I know there are other issues on this board, but this is from a manual for social workers on the importance of fathers as a part of the family unit. Being in Lowell and seeing lots of unmarried-low income couples, as neighbors and around me this is something dear to my heart that umm… I don’t see the Democratic Party being concerned with.

The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children from childwelfare.gov


One of the most important benefits of a positive relationship between mother and father, and a benefit directly related to the objectives of the CPS caseworker, is the behavior it models for children. Fathers who treat the mothers of their children with respect and deal with conflict within the relationship in an adult and appropriate manner are more likely to have boys who understand how they are to treat women and who are less likely to act in an aggressive fashion toward females. Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships. In contrast, research has shown that husbands who display anger, show contempt for, or who stonewall their wives (i.e., “the silent treatment”) are more likely to have children who are anxious, withdrawn, or antisocial. 8

8 Gable, S., Crnic, K., & Belsky, J. (1994). Coparenting within the family system: Influences on children’s development. Family Relations, 43(4), 380-386. back

The Link Between Marriage and Fatherhood

Caring, involved fathers exist outside of marriage. They are more likely, however, to be found in the context of marriage. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which being the legal and social norms associated with marriage that connect a father to the family unit. That may also explain, in part, why research consistently shows that the married mother-and-father family is a better environment for raising children than the cohabitating (living together) mother-and-father family.14

It is interesting to note that, contrary to stereotypes about low-income, unmarried parents, a significant majority-more than 8 in 10-of urban, low-income fathers and mothers are in a romantic relationship when their children are born.15 Most of these couples expect that they will get married. One study found that more than 80 percent expected they would get married or live together. However, only 11 percent of these couples had actually married a year later.16 Why they do not marry is an interesting question open to conjecture. However, as Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has pointed out, it may be because these couples receive very little encouragement to marry from the health and social services professionals with whom they come in contact.17

14 Palkovitz, R. (2002). Involved fathering and child development: Advancing our understanding of good fathering. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 119-140). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Wilcox, W. B. (2004) Soft patriarchs, new men: How Christianity shapes husbands and fathers. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; Hofferth, S., & Anderson, K. (2003). Are all dads equal? Biology versus marriage as a basis for paternal investment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(1), 213-232; Clarke, L., Cooksey, E. C., & Verropoulou, G. (1998). Fathers and absent fathers: Sociodemographic similarities in Britain and the United States. Demography, 35(2), 217-228. back

15 McLanahan, S., Garfinkel, I., Reichman, N., Teitler, J., Carlson, M., & Norland Audigier, C. (2003, March). The fragile families and child well-being study. Baseline national report. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. back

16 Gibson, G., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2003, June). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. back

17 Horn, W. (2003). Closing the marriage gap [On-line]. Available: http://www.crisismagazine.com/… back

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