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Fatherhood: The Changing Family Photo

by Tami Rudder

According to the 1999 National Survey of America's Families, one in three children (33%) live either in single-parent or blended families. According to 2001 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in nearly two-thirds (63%) of two-parent families, both the mother and the father work. The days when a "traditional" family consisted of two parents -- a working father and a stay-at-home mother -- are long gone, and the roles and expectations of American fathers have changed dramatically.

In a 2000 Gallup Youth Survey*, Gallup asked American teens a series of questions about fatherhood. A majority of teens (60%) agree that it is more difficult to be a father today than 20 or 30 years ago.

Financial issues are the crux of patriarchal concerns according to teens, 82% of whom feel that worrying about having enough money to support the family is "very difficult" or "somewhat difficult" for fathers. Making enough time to spend with children ran a close second, with 80% of teens thinking this is "very difficult" or "somewhat difficult" for fathers.

When asked a series of questions about the relationships between boys and their fathers, a large percentage of teens agreed that boys growing up with a father in the home have significant advantages over those without fathers in the home. Nearly half of teens agree that boys who grow up with a father in their home are more likely to be successful (49%) and happy (45%) as adults.

Does a fatherly presence at home deter boys from trouble? Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, feels that the answer is yes. "In a longitudinal study**… it was found that after controlling for family background variables … boys who grew up outside of intact marriages were, on average, more than twice as likely as other boys to end up in jail," Warren said. "Each year spent without a dad in the home increased the odds of future incarceration by 5%."

Teens are divided on the issue. Forty-two percent (42%) agree that boys who grow up with their father at home are less likely to get into trouble with the law, but a similar percentage (41%) disagree. Teens are also unsure about a father's influence with regard to dissuading substance abuse. Thirty-two percent (32%) of teens agree that boys growing up with a father at home are less likely to have a problem with drug or alcohol use. Almost half of teens disagree with that statement.

*Findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 500 American teen-agers, aged 13 to 17. Interviews were conducted April through June 2000.

** Harper, Cynthia C., and Sara S. McLanahan. "Father Absence and Youth Incarceration." Working Paper #99-03. Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Princeton University, October 1999.

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