America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness.
Right now, around 41 percent of children are born to single mothers.
For women under 30, who bear two-thirds of all children, that rate is 53 percent.
Many unmarried women are cohabiting with partners at the outset of their children's births, but those couplings disintegrate at twice the rate of marriages.
In total, about one-third of all children are raised in father-absent homes.
By some estimates, this means more kids are growing up with televisions in their bedroom than with both of their biological parents.
Boys are especially affected by this trend. Without positive and consistent male role models, society misses out on much of their constructive potential.
It’s no coincidence 70 percent of male inmates did not grow up with both parents, for example.
Even for those with fathers, the average school-age boy spends just half an hour per week in one-on-one conversation with his father, according to David Walsh, founder of Mind Positive Parenting.
“That compares with 44 hours a week in front of a television, video game screen, [and] Internet screen,” he says. “I think that we are neglecting our boys tremendously. The result of that is our boys aren’t spending time with mentors, with elders, who can really show them the path, show them the way of how it is that we’re supposed to behave as healthy men.”
Across the board, children with intact families have more advantages than their fatherless peers.
A report published by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says children of married biological parents or adoptive parents are healthier, have fewer definite or severe emotional or behavioral difficulties and are less likely to grow up in poverty.
They also have more friends.
When Gen-Y children were surveyed in elementary school, those who were living with their fathers scored better on 21 of 27 social competence measures.
The gap between rich and poor will keep getting worse as fatherlessness rises among those of lower socioeconomic status.
Children who grow up without fathers are more likely to become single mothers or absent dads, use drugs, have low academic achievement and are less likely to believe in marriage or have successful marriages.
On average, a little over 3 million children in the US receive welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or State Supplemental Program (SSP), each month during the fiscal year.
A recent report from Pew Research indicated 18 percent of American adults have received assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps,” at some point in their lives, and Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to have used food stamps.
Women were about twice as likely as men, and black people were twice as likely as white people to have received food stamps.
People over 65 years old were the least likely age group to say they had received food stamps, while people with less education – a high school diploma or lower – were three times more likely than college graduates to have received those benefits.
Women who marry or maintain a home with the biological father of their children can face the reduction or loss of their benefits, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services:
“Our main finding is that if a male has financial resources, TANF provides the greatest disincentive to form and/or maintain a biological family, and the least disincentive, if not an incentive, to form an unrelated cohabitor family. In a biological family, where the male is the father of all the children, he must be included in the unit and his resources counted. In an unrelated cohabitor family, where he is father of none of the children, he is not included and his resources are not counted. In addition, most states disregard unrelated cohabitor vendor and cash payments to the TANF recipient and her children.”
In other words, the current structure of TANF actually promotes having nearly any man but the biological father heading the house.
Women are also about six times likelier to get sole custody of their children after separating from their fathers.
In some cases, men even go to jail for falling behind on child support payments.
In South Carolina, for example, about one out of seven inmates are imprisoned for this very reason, and 75 percent of them were unemployed or having trouble finding work.
How sending them to jail will help them, their families, or taxpayers is a mystery.
And. again, for children with fathers, dads are missing out on crucial bonding time.
Children who had frequent and positive interactions with their fathers, such as the father paying attention to the child’s interests, offering encouragement and smiling, during the first year of their lives were calmer and better behaved than other children at age two.
This was especially true for boys.
Involved dads also reduce the chances of their infants experiencing cognitive delays, and fathers themselves feel more confident about their job skills, parenting skills and social relationships.
The US is an oddity among Western nations in not granting statutory paid maternity or paternity leave or providing childcare at a reasonable cost.
This creates a situation where women are forced to choose between work and family (to “lean in” or “lean out”), while men have no option but to “lean in” or just opt out altogether.
These trends paint a very disconnected picture, but that can change. The government can step up by commissioning a White House Council on Boys and Men.
There is currently a White House Council on Girls and Women, but they have yet to support a similar platform for men, even though it has been proposed and endorsed by a number of experts.
Creating policies that support a father’s right to be present in his children’s lives during divorce and custody battle situations, eliminating perverse welfare incentives for parents to live apart, offering men paternity leave equal to maternity leave, providing childcare for both mothers and fathers and encouraging family members to visit inmates would also be steps in the right direction.
Sponsoring a nationwide male mentorship program to bring more positive male figures into children’s lives would also help reverse these trends.
To be number one, America must strengthen its families, not lead the way in fatherlessness.