The Epidemic of Missing Fathers

Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, addressed the connections between fatherlessness and criminal behavior in a 2002 speech.

image He noted that in the United States, "both fatherlessness and our prison population are at all-time highs." Following is an excerpt from his speech:

"The most consequential social trend of our time is the dramatic increase in the number of children growing up in father-absent families. In 1960, this number stood at less than 10 million. Today it's 24 million. This means that tonight, one out of every three children in America will go to bed in a home absent their father. And it's not just that these kids are going to bed without their fathers tonight, 40 percent of children who don't live with their fathers haven't seen their father during the past year. And one-half have never set foot in their father's home.

"Studies find that children who live apart from their biological fathers are on average five to six times as likely to be poor. They are twice as likely to suffer physical or emotional neglect; to manifest emotional or behavioral disorders, including suicidal behavior; to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs; to be suspended or expelled from school or to drop out; and at least twice as likely to end up in jail. A few findings from the research:

"According to a Princeton University study, 'each year spent without a dad in the home increased the odds of future incarceration by 5 percent.'

"According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 70 percent of juveniles in state reform institutions grew up in single-parent or no-parent situations, and 53 percent of state prison inmates grew up apart from their fathers. Indeed, the National Center on Fathers and Families reports that the typical male prison inmate grew up in a single-parent, mother-headed home and has at least one close relative who has been incarcerated.

"We hear a lot about that last factor—the father or other close relative who was in prison. But we don't hear nearly enough about the other, interrelated factor—growing up without a dad" ("Responsible Fatherhood and the Role of the Family," plenary remarks at the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative Grantee Conference, Sept. 30, 2002, Washington, D.C.).

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