According to the US Census Bureau, 36.3% of children are living absent of their biological fathers. Beginning in 1960 with 8% of children living without their biological father, that percentage has continued to increase. The issue of absent fathers has raised many questions as to what effects this has on individuals and society. Absent fathers (a term that can consist of many different things) can have a profound effect on the development of their daughterâ€™s relationships, especially when it comes to their relationships with other men. While the research on this topic may be lacking, what is out there is clear that fathers do play an important role in their development. Women can face things such as becoming sexually promiscuous, low self-esteem, trust issues, or other difficulties with sustaining relationships (Krohn& Bogan, 599). While there is some research that negates the effect an absent father has, such as having an abusive father or lesbian couples as parents the research for this field continues to grow and even though the research on these effects may be limited, the amount continues to increase with promise.
A father can be absent in many different ways. An absent father is defined as â€œthose who do not interact with their children on a regular basis and consequently do not play a significant role in their development. Divorce, death, and abandonment are all forms of absenceâ€ (Krohn & Bogan, 599). Death of a femaleâ€™s father is simply their father dying before or during the age of development. Divorce is when parents separate and the child does not live with the father. Abandonment can be either through the father leaving and not returning, imprisonment, a continually working father (or a workaholic) and/or the father not being there emotionally. All of these situations of absent fathers can lead to different effects of a childâ€™s development.
When divorce and abandonment cause absent fathers, the effects can be much more crippling than if the loss occurs by death. It has been shown that girls who have an absent father as a result of divorce or abandonment seek out much more attention and physical contact from men in comparison to girls from intact homes (Krohn& Bogan, 599). In a study conducted by E. Mavis Hetherington, girls were interviewed about their absent fathers. When brought into an interview room the girls could either sit in a chair right next to the interviewer, a chair across from the interviewer, or a chair the furthest away from the interviewer (Lynn, 261). While the results with a women interviewer did not show anything significant, when the interviewer was a man, the girls with whom had been affect by either abandonment or divorce, sat closest to the male interviewer as compared the girls with fathers, which sat at an intermediate distance from the interviewer (Lynn, 61). Girls growing up without a father are more likely to experience stressed relationships with men. Women who have did not have fathers growing up feel a constant need to be accepted by men and will aggressively seek attention from them (Krohn& Bogan, 599). They do not receive the attention from their father figures they need and as a result will constantly seek the attention from other men.
In contrast, father loss by death does affect females differently than that of abandonment or divorce. Unlike girls who have an absent father from divorce or abandonment, girls whose father died before the age of five are more likely to shy away from men and are more reluctant to start a relationship with them (Krohn& Bogan, 599). In the same experiment by Hetherington, girls who had experienced loss of their father by death would choose the chair furthest away from the male interviewer. In addition, the daughters who lost their fathers to death made less eye contact, talked, and smiled less to the male interviewer in comparison to girls with fathers and those who had absent fathers because of divorce or abandonment (Lynn, 261). Girls whose fathers have died are more likely to avoid contact with men and as a result have more stressed relationships.
In general girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to experience problems with relationships than girls who grow up with a father. â€œAdolescent girls raised in fatherless households are far more likely to engage in promiscuous sexual activity before marriage, to cohabit, to get pregnant out of wedlock and to have an abortionâ€ (Krohn& Bogan, 599). The father is helpful in developing a daughterâ€™s femininity and in their sexual development (Williamson, 208). Women who had absent fathers growing up tend to have idealized relationships with men, as a hope to get their lost father back, but then comes to the realization that the relationship is flawed and end up disappointed, only to start the cycle over again (Gill, 225). In some interesting statistics, 60% of strippers come from an absent father (Adams, Milner, Schrepf, 171). Females in single parent homes as opposed to intact ones are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 111% more likely to have children as teenagers and 92% more likely to divorce if they marry (Krohn& Bogan, 599).
The mother is not completely left out of this scenario though. When there is an absent father, the response of the mother is an important one in helping the child cope more easily. With divorce or abandonment, how the mother deals with the loss of her significant other greatly affects the child. If a mother degrades the father, the child is more likely to have a negative idea of her father. In contrast, daughters who have suffered the loss of their father are more likely to have a positive view of him and feel sadder about his loss (Krohn& Bogan, 599).
While the research on the effects of an absent father has shown that it is important to have a father figure, there has also been research that contradicts this idea. The first is abusive fathers. While having a positive father figure during the childâ€™s development is seen to have good effects, this is not the case if the father figure is not a positive one (Downs & Rindels, 660). It has been shown in studies that having no father at all is better for the girlâ€™s development than having an abusive father figure (Downs & Rindels, 660). An abusive father can cause alcohol problems and mental health problems among many things. Women who had an abusive father during their development reported significantly higher scores of anxiety, depression, and trauma than girls who reported having an absent father (Downs & Rindels, 660).
Another issue that goes against the idea that having a positive father figure present is lesbian households. In this situation there is no father, but two mothers. While past research with suggest that children of lesbian parents would experience the same issues as those who had an absent father, this is not true. Children who have been raised in lesbian households with no male figure did not show higher instances of psychological disorders or difficulties with relationships than children growing up with heterosexual parents (Golombok, Perry, & Burston, 21). The only difference that could be noted between heterosexual homes and those of lesbian homes was that there was more experimentation with same- sex relationships, although that did not always lead to a homosexual lifestyle. This raises that question of whether it is really a male figure that is needed for the development of a girlâ€™s relationship development or if it is just the structure of having two parent figures that is important.
The research history of the topic of absent fathers and their effects on girls is not one that has not been highly emphasized. While there are many studies on the effects of an absent father on boys, the same for girls was very lacking until recently. The research on the topic of an absent fathers effect on a girls development is very important to society. If we have a third of children growing up without father figures in America, what will that do to our society. If having an absent father can cause things such as promiscuous sex, teenage pregnancy, and increased divorce rates, where will our society go? Are we trapped in an inevitable â€˜catch 22â€™ of sorts, where our absent fathers are causing our societal problems, but our societal problems are causing absent fathers? Learning what effects an absent father can have can help us better understand how to solve that problem.
The research of the effects of an absent father on child development can also lead to policy change. If many of our societal problems are stemming from the increase of absent fathers, changing our public policy for these issues is imperative. There are many ways in which we can change the public policy. One of the ways is to encourage family planning. Many fathers become absent when there is an unplanned child. Encouraging contraceptives is a way to prevent unplanned families. Other policies that could be put in place are economic support for the women and children who suffer from an absent father. By having the means to live a good life, a child will be more likely to develop without a stigma of an absent father. Providing child care, or support for child care to mothers of children with absent fathers is also helpful to make sure that the mother can work and there is still good support for the child.
This area of research is far from completed. There is much that needs to still be researched about the effects an absent father has on a daughterâ€™s relationship development and other areas of development and there are many questions that remain unanswered. One of the biggest questions is whether it is important to have the male figure (as opposed to lesbian couples) for the child to develop normally. If a child is loved and supported by the rest of their family then is that father figure needed? Even though a father may be present, what effect is there is that father is emotionally unavailable? Are the effects of having an absent father reversible, in that a child may get support and continue to lead a normal life? Because this could have such an impact on our society, research on this topic should continue and continue more in-depth.
As the rate of fatherless homes continues to increase, this area of research becomes more important. An absent father can cause things such as low self-esteem, sexual promiscuity, and trouble maintaining relationships with men. While research in this area may be lacking, there is much room for improvement and continuation. With womenâ€™s liberation, the field has become much more unbiased and research will continue to grow. With time, this will lead to things such as policy change, and eventually change our societal problems. Hopefully, the problem of absent fathers will not longer continue to be a weight on the shoulders of a childâ€™s development.
Adams, P.L, Milner J.R., & Schrepf N.A. (1984). Fatherless children. New York: Wiley-Interscience Publication
Downs, W.R., & Rindels, B. (2004). Adulthood depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms: a comparison of women with nonabusive, abusive, and absent father figures in childhood. Violence and Victims, 19, 659-671
Gill, H.S. (1991). Psychotherapy of a fatherless young woman. Journal of Medical Psychology, 64, 228-232.
Golombok, S., Perry, B., & Burston, A. (2003). Children with lesbian parents: a community study. Developmental Psychology, 39, 20-33.
Lynn D.B. (1974). The father: his role in child development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth
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Krohn, F.B. & Bogan, Z. (2001). The effects absent fathers have on female development and college attendance. College Student Journal, 34, 598-608.
Williamson, M. (2004). The importance of fathers in relation to their daughters' psychosexual
development. Psychodynamic Practice: Individuals, Groups and Organizations, 10, 207-219.