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Children with Absent Fathers Author(s): Mary Margaret Thomes Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol.

30, No. 1 (Feb., 1968), pp. 89-96 Published by: National Council on Family Relations Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/350226 . Accessed: 12/02/2014 00:12
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Children with Absent Fathers*


MARY MARGARET THOMES**
The role of the father in socializing children was examined by studying effects of his absence on 9- to 11-year-old boys and girls. Forty-seven children in low socioeconomic-status, fatherabsent homes were compared with a matched control group with fathers present. Variables studied were the children's concepts of parental roles, their attitudes and feelings about family members, their peer relationships, and their self-concepts. Many similarities and few differences between the groups were found. Discussion suggests matching the groups on socioeconomic level and also the use of low socioeconomic-status subjects as factors influencing the results.

THE role of the father in the socializationof children in the American nuclear family is of particular interest, since he is ordinarily the only adult male with whom the child can have stable, daily interaction.Most theoriesof socialization postulate that from this interactionthe child internalizesthe male role either directlyin the case of a boy or as a counterrolein the case of a girl. One possible avenue to an understanding of the role of the father in socialization is the examination of the effects of his long-continuedabsence.Much of a speculative nature has been written about possible deleteriouseffects on children of the absenceof the father. Also, clinical reports indicate that the absence of a father is believed to be a major factor in some problemsof personaladjustment of children. Empirical knowledge based on studies of childrenwhose fathersare absentis only beginThere have been some ning to be accumulated. investigationsof young children whose fathers are absent for prolonged periods because of their occupations. This work has been done primarilywith young children of Europeansailors, and contradictoryresults have been reported.'
*The research on which this paper is based was conducted with the assistance of graduate students in a research seminar in the School of Social Welfare, UCLA. Research reported here was completed in 1965. ** Mary Margaret Thomes, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare, University of California, Los Angeles. 1 Tiller, and Lynn and Sawrey studied young boys in the families of Norwegian sailors using projective doll play and found them to be dependent and to manifest conflict about masculine identification more than boys whose fathers were present. P. 0. Tiller, "Father Absence and Personality Development in Children in Sailor Families: A Preliminary Research Report," in Studies of the Family, ed. by N. Anderson, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1957, vol. 2, pp. 115-137; and David Lynn and W. Sawrey, "The Effects of Father Absence on Norwegian Boys and Girls," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59 (1959), pp. 258-262. Ancona and associates studied children of Italian sailors using similar techniques and did not find differences as reported for Norwegian children. L. Ancona, M. Cesa-Bianchi, and C. Bocquet, "Identification with the Father in the Ab-

In the United Statesthere have been studies of children whose fathers were temporarilyabsent because of military service overseas during World War II. Such studies have investigated children who were very young at the time of their fathers' absence,some studying the young children,2 others presently examining them as young adults.3 Less masculine patterns of behavior and less identificationwith the father were reported for children whose fathers had prolonged absences. Other studies have used various types of samples and techniques with results.4In addition, a numberof contradictory
sence of the Paternal Model: Research Applied to Children of Navy Officers," Archivio di Psicologia, Neurologia e Psichiatria, 24:4 (1964), pp. 341-361. 2 Both Bach and Sears used projective techniques and found the overt and fantasy behavior of boys in father-absent families to be somewhat effeminate and lacking in aggression. George R. Bach, "Father-fantasies and Father-typing in Father-separated Children," Child Development, 17 (1946), pp. 63-79; and Pauline S. Sears, "Doll Play Aggression in Normal Young Children: Influence of Sex, Age, Sibling Status, Father's Absence," Psychology Monographs, 65:6 (1951), whole no. 323. Stolz studied 19 war-separated families shortly after the fathers returned home. She reports more children's behavior problems in separated families than in a control group and less satisfactory relationships of the children to their fathers and also to their peers. Lois M. Stolz, Father Relations of Warborn Children, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1954. 3 Leichty used the Blackey picture test and reported higher frequency of strong oedipal intensity and lower frequency of close identification with the father in a separated group than in a control group. Mary M. Leichty, "The Effect of FatherAbsence During Early Childhood upon the Oedipal Situation as Reflected in Young Adults," Merrill-Palmer Quarterly,
6 (1960), pp. 212-217.

Carlsmith reports mathematical and verbal aptitude scores on college entrance were related to father absence in childhood and suggests sex role identification theory as a possible interpretation. Lyn Carlsmith, "Effect of Early Father Absence on Scholastic Aptitude," Harvard Educational Review, 34:1 (1964), pp. 3-21. 4 Lawton and Sechrest found no differences between groups of father-absent and father-present boys. M. J. Lawton and L. Sechrest, "Figure Drawings by Young Boys from FatherPresent and Father-Absent Homes," Journal of Clinical Psychology, 18 (1962), pp. 304-305.

Mischel studied two West Indian subcultures in which

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studies suggest that broken homes (typically with the father absent) are frequently associated with juvenile delinquency. However, the most intensive analysis to date indicates that many effects presumedto be caused by the absence of the father can be largely attributedto such as conflict, rejection, and characteristics, deviance, which occur more frequently in brokenfamilies.5 At least two problemsbecomeapparentin an examinationof these studies of children whose fathers are absent.The first is the frequent reliance on projectivetests, with all of the accomand reliabilpanying questionsof interpretation ity of results.The second is failure to deal explicitly with factors of social class despite evidence that some aspects of socialization vary with social class. Influences of the absence of the father may well be quite specific to certain social class groups, and this variableshould be dealt with systematically. The study reportedhere was an investigation
the father is frequently absent. He found father absence related to choice of immediate gratification over remote but greater gratification in children 8 and 9 years old but not in those 11 to 14 years of age. Walter Mischel, "Father Absence and Delay of Gratification," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63 (1961), pp. 116-124. Haworth compared Rorschach and TAT responses of children aged 6 to 14 who had lost one or both parents before age 6 with responses of a control group. The loss group had higher mean scores than the controls, with the greatest effect being on boys who had lost their mothers or both parents. There were no differences in clinical referrals of the two groups. Mary R. Haworth, "Parental Loss in Children as Reflected in Projective Responses," Journal of Projective Techniques, 28 (1964), pp. 31-45. Pedersen compared career military men's sons who were referred for treatment of emotional or behavioral problems with a matched control group on the extent of fatherabsences. No significant differences in father-absence were found. Rogers Personality Adjustment Test scores were correlated with the extent of father-absence in the disturbed group, but not in the control group. This study matched the groups closely on several variables, including the socioeconomic status of the family. Frank A. Pedersen, "Relationships Between Father-Absence and Emotional Disturbance in Male Military Dependents," Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 12 (1966), pp. 322-331. Hetherington used a sex-role preference test and ratings by recreation-center workers to compare boys whose fathers were absent and present. Father-absence after age five showed no significant effect on sex-typed behavior. Boys whose fathers had been absent before the age of five showed less masculine preferences. Father-absent boys were rated as more dependent on peers. E. Mavis Hetherington, "Effects of Paternal Absence on Sex-Typed Behavior in Negro and White Preadolescent Males," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4 (1966), pp. 87-91. 5 Joan W. McCord, William McCord, and Emily Thurber, "Some Effects of Paternal Absence on Male Children," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 64 (1962), pp. 361-369.

of relationshipsbetween the prolonged absence of the father and certaincharacteristics of children. The study comparedtwo groups of children whose families were similar in socioeconomic level and in structureexcept for the distinguishing variable of the presence of the father in the home or his absence becauseof divorce or separation.All families were of relatively low socioeconomicstatus. A child in a home where the father was absent was paired with an age-sex matched control subject whose of his family was in the circle of acquaintance mother and whose father was living in the home. Home interviews were conducted with the children and their mothersusing both standardized tests and instruments formulated specificallyfor this study to assessthe children's attitudes and feelings about themselves, their families, and their peers.
THE SUBJECTS

Subjects from homes in which the father was absent were selected from files of families receiving aid to dependent children. Families meeting the following criteria were selected: (1) at least one child between 9 and 11 yearsof age; (2) the father had been absent from the home becauseof divorce,desertion,or separationfor a minimum of two years; (3) children were legitimate; (4) all family members were Caucasian,not of Mexican descent, and had been born in the United States. All families in the files for selected geographical areas meeting these criteria were used as subjects. Interviews were completed with 36 families.6 All children between 9 and 11 years of age in these families were interviewed. Interviews were completed with 47 children and their mothers. Twenty-four of the children in these father-absenthomes were boys; 23 were girls. Eighty-onepercent of the fathers of these children had been absent from their homes for three or more years, 51 percenthaving been absent more than five years.
6 All files of one metropolitan public assistance district office were searched for eligible families. In addition, cases in a small, adjacent geographical area served by a second district office were searched to provide a sufficient number of eligible families. A total of 46 families were located. Interviews were completed with the children and mothers in 36 families. The remaining 10 families were not willing to be interviewed. Six of the refusals were with one interviewer. Available data from records indicate that these families do not differ in any discernible way from the remainder of the sample. Subjects were given no indication of the use of public assistance files and did not know that their names had been obtained from such records.

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Subjects from homes in which both the mother and father were present were obtained through referral by the mothers in the fatherabsenthomes. They were asked to suggest three families known to them having a child between 9 and 11 years old and with both parentspresent in the home. One of the suggested families was then included in the control group. Interviews were completedwih 31 families who had 36 children in the specified age range, 19 boys and 17 girls.7 The use of referralsto obtain a control group of families has been demonstrated as a technique which will result in matching of families on a number of variables used as indexes of social position.8 A comparisonof demographiccharacteristics of the father-absentgroup with those of the control group is presentedin Table 1 and indicates the similarityof the two groups of families. There were no significant differences9 between the two groups of parentsin age, educational level, prior marriages,percentof mothers working outside the home, occupation of the employed mothers, main lifetime occupational categories of the fathers of the children, and religion. The father-absentfamilies had more famresidentialmobilitythan the mother-father families were receivingpubilies. Father-absent lic financial assistance; mother-fatherfamilies were not. The two groups of children did not differ significantlyin age, although there was a tendency for the children from father-absent homes to be younger. These children had a slightly but significantly lower school-grade placementthan the childrenfrom mother-father homes, probablyreflectingtheir slightly younger age. There were no significantdifferencesbetween the two groups of childrenin sibling position. The socioeconomiclevel of the families may be estimatedfrom the main lifetime occupational categories and the educationallevel of the fathers. In the father-absentfamilies, 57 percent of the fathers were in skilled or unskilled labor or service occupationsand 17 percentunemployed. In the control families, 68 percent
T Thirty-six families were referrals for the control group; five were not willing to be interviewed. For each control case, permission was given by the referring mother to use her name as an acquaintance who had indicated the control family had a child of a given age and sex. s Mary Margaret Thomes, Parents of Schizophrenic and

TABLE 1. COMPARISON OF FATHER-ABSENT AND CONTROL FAMILIES Variable Age Mother Father Education Mother Father Prior marriages Mother Father Mothers employed Occupation Employed mothers Fathers Religion Mothers Fathers Years at present address Sibling position of subject children Age of subject children School-grade placement of subject children Chi-Square 1.25 1.69 1.66 1.35 .83 3.31 .45 .45 4.82 .02 .90 13.97 .93 3.54 7.18 p .60 .50 .50 .60 .70 .20 .80 .80 .10 .90 .70 .001 .70 .20 .05

were in skilled or unskilled labor or servicecategories and three percentunemployed.The prevailing educational level of the fathers was some high school. Eighty percentof the fathers of the experimentalgroup and 68 percent of the control group had completed one to four yearsof high school. A question that arises is whether the marriages of the control group were disorganized or characterized by conflict.A short form of the index was completed Locke marital-adjustment by the mothers in the control group.l0 Eightyeight percent had scores in the upper half of the range on this index, 44 percentbeing in the top quartile and 44 percent in the second. These results indicate that these mothers, as a group, reportthat they are either very or fairly well adjustedin their marriage.
OF THE MEASUREMENT
VARIABLES AND RESULTS

Normal Children, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1959. 9 This was at the five-percent level of probability. The measure for significance of difference used throughout was the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test with conversion to Chi-square for determination of level of significance.

All childrenwere interviewedin their homes, with care being taken to insure that the inter0 Ernest W. Burgess, Harvey J. Locke, and Mary Margaret Thomes, The Family: From Institution to Companionship, New York: American Book Company, 1963, pp. 301-304.

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views were not supervisedor overheardby parents. The variables measured were the children's conceptsof parentalroles, their attitudes and feelings about family members, their peer relationships,and their self-concepts.Additional dimensions were explored by a few openended questions. Brief interviews were conducted with the mothers, primarily to obtain information on family structure and demographic characteristics. Questions on the child's peer relationships were included and, for the mothersin the controlgroup, a short marital-adjustment index. All of the instrumentsin the study utilized an objective scoring procedure and relied on direct scoring of responseswithout an intervening factor of interpretation.They, therefore, were fairly direct assessments of variablesat the conscious level in subjects. In almost all cases variableswere measuredby more than a single instrument. Children'sConceptof ParentalRoles This variable was measured by a series of questions based on prior studies investigating children'sideas of parentalroles. The questions focused on such role activitiesas taking care of children, disciplining them, protecting them, encouragingachievement,and teaching acceptable behavior.Fifteen questionswere used, and the child was asked to choose whether father or mother should do these things in a family with both motherand fatherpresent.This, of course, required that the children in the father-absent homes either recallan earliersituationwhen the father was present or that they describe their conceptsof what a fathershould do. The children from father-absent homes made significantlyfewer choices of the father to carry out these parental-role activities and more choices of the mother than did the children from mother-father homes. Forty percentof the children from father-absenthomes chose the father for none, one, or two of the 15 items, while only 11 percent of the children from mother-fatherhomes made as few choices of father (p = .025). Examinationof individual items indicated that children with a father in the home perceivedhis role as teacher,disciplinarian, and protector. This, of course, is in agreement with general cultural expectations for the father role. The children living in father-absent homes more frequently perceived these activities as part of the mother's role. The children's concepts of personal qualities of parents were investigatedby asking them to select, from a list of 32, those qualities which 92

were characteristic of "most mothers" and "mostfathers." (The developmentof the list of qualities and method of scoring is describedin detail subsequentlyin the section dealing with the measurement of the self-concept.) The choicesmade by the childrenfrom father-absent homes did not differ significantlyfrom those made by children from mother-fatherhomes, with the two groups describing the personal qualities of both mothers and fathers in a similar manner.11 Children'sFeelings and Attitudes TowardFamily Members This variablewas measuredprimarilyby the Bene-AnthonyFamily Relations Test.'2 This is a semiprojective test in which the child assigns statements indicating various feelings to different family members. The child selects from a group of cardboard figuresthose picturing the members of his family. In effect the child structureshis family as he perceives it. The interviewer then selects a figure for the child himself, if one has not been chosen, and adds a figure called "Nobody." The selected figures are attached to boxes and the child is given slips, each containing one simple statement of feeling or attitudeabout a person. For 9- to 11-year-old children, there are 86 statements.Examplesare:
This person in the family never lets you down. This personin the family nags sometimes. SometimesI feel like hitting this person in the family. This person in the family alwayswants to be with me.

The child puts each slip into the box of the figure to whom he wishes to assign the feeling, or, if he feels it does not apply to any family member, he puts the slip into the "Nobody" box. As he proceeds,the child cannotsee where he has placed earlier slips. The statementsare divided among the categories of mildly and
11Scores on qualities describing "most fathers" were 6.8 for father-absent boys, 5.9 for mother-father boys (p = .70) and 8.5 for father-absent girls, 12.6 for mother-father girls (p = .10). While the difference in the scores of the girls was not statistically significant, the direction indicates a more favorable concept of "most fathers" by the girls whose fathers were in their homes. Scores on qualities describing "most mothers" were very similar for both groups and for both boys and girls: father-absent boys, 7.4, mother-father boys, 6.4 (p = .60); and 6.0 for father-absent girls, 7.0 for mother-father girls (p .60). 12Eva Bene and James Anthony, Family Relations Test, London: National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales, 1957.

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homes. strongly affectionatefeelings coming from the homes and those from the mother-father The similarities in the response patterns of child, mildly and strongly hostile feelings coming from the child, mildly and strongly affec- these two groups of children when they detionate feelings directedtowardthe child, mild- scribed their perceptions of feelings and attily and stronglyhostile feelings directedtoward tudes between themselves and other family the child, maternaloverprotection, and paternal members were much greater than the two and maternal overindulgence. Scores are ob- differences noted above. It is interesting that tained by counting the number of each kind of there were no significant differencesin hostile response assigned by the child to the various feelings, either mild or strong, directedtoward the fathers who had left the home because of family members. The selection of figures indicated,at least in marital discord and the fathers who remained part, the children'sperceptionof the father as a in the home. Slightly more mildly hostile feelfamily member. As one would expect, all chil- ings were directed toward the father than the dren in father-mother homes chose father motherin both groups, but the differenceswere figures. Of the 47 children in father-absent not significant. Two incidental results from this family relahomes, 43 selected father figures as members of their families and only four did not do so. It tions test are of interest. In both the father-abis apparent that these divorced and separated sent and the control groups, girls assigned fathers were regarded,to some degree, as part strongly hostile feelings to family members, of their families by the children and that the while boys more frequently assignedthese feelchildren did not perceive themselvesas entirely ings to the "Nobody" figure. Also, in both without a father. Some of the responses to groups very few responseswere assigned to the open-ended questions also support this view. "Self" figure, the mean number on each catUnfortunately, we do not have information egory of feeling being less than one response about the patterns of contact of the children attributedto the self. This may indicate that with their fathers. Since these families were re- children of this age find it easier to perceive ceiving aid to dependent children, with legal and verbalizeattitudesand feelings aboutothers that involve the father, it was de- than those which they hold about themselves. requirements cided not to attemptto obtain this information. A second assessmentof the child's feelings Comparisonsbetween the responses of the about his family was made by the Family Relachildren from the father-absent and mother-fa- tions Scale of the CaliforniaTest of Personalther homes were made for each categoryof feel- ity. This 12-item scale asks about the child's ing directedtowardthe mother,father, siblings, feelings toward his family and home as a and self. The number of items assigned to the whole, in contrast to the previously described father by children in father-absenthomes was Bene-Anthonytest, which deals with the memsmaller. Boys from father-absent homes as- bers of the family individually. The scores of signed a mean of 7.7 items to the father figure the father-absentand control children on the as comparedto a mean of 13.5 items for the Family Relations Scale were not significantly control group (p = .001). Girls from father- different, nor were there any significant absent homes assigned a mean of 8.4 items to differences between the groups on individual the father figure, while the mean for control- items in the scale. Examinationof the responses group girls was 12.7 (p = .001). It is apparent shows that the children from mother-father that the degree of feeling and attitudinal in- homes gave slightly more favorable responses, volvementwith the father was much less for the but the differencesbetween groups were quite childrenin the father-absent homes. small. Examination of responseson specifickinds of tests on The resultsof these two standardized feelings shows a significant difference only in the child's attitudesand feelings abouthis famthe mildly affectionate feelings perceived as ily are consistent,and both indicate a predomicoming from the father (p = .05). This was nant pattern of similaritybetween the children especially true for girls (p = .005). As might from father-absentand mother-fatherhomes. be anticipated, the greater number of mildly Children in father-absenthomes show signifiaffectionatefeelings perceived as coming from cantly less attitudinal involvement with the the father was reportedby the children in the father. mother-father homes. In the remaining ten categoriesof feelings and attitudesabout family Peer Relationships members, there were no significant differences Information on this variable was obtained between the children from the father-absent from the children and also from their mothers. February1968 JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY 93

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Independently, children and mothers were asked 17 questionsdealing with the child's participation in groups, his leadership, how well he got along with peers, and how much conflict he had with them. These items were constructed for the study. Also, children'sresponsesin the Social Standards, Anti-social Tendency, and School Relations Scales of the California Test of Personalitywere used as indexes of peer relationships. There were no significant differences between the two groups of children on any of the individual items constructedfor this study or on scores for the three standardized scales. However, when the data on girls were examined separately, significantly different responseswere found on two items. In responseto "How do you usually act when you get mad at your friends?" girls from father-absent homes expressed a tendency to react aggressively by "hitting" and "throwingthings," while most of the girls from mother-father homes said they would walk away (p = .05). Mothersof the girls in the father-absent homes reported that their daughters belonged to significantlyfewer groups than did mothers of girls from mother-fatherhomes (p = .025). The differencein group membershipas reported by the girls themselves was not significantbut was in the same direction as reported by the mothers. The most meaningful result of this comparison of peer relationships was the high degree of were found similarity.No significantdifferences on 68 of 70 items dealing with various aspects of peer relationships.

undesirablequalities checked from the number of desirablequalitieschecked.13 Each child was given the list of words four separate times. He was asked to check those which describehimself as he is, then to check those which describewhat he would like to be, and finally to check the words which describe most fathers and then those describing most mothers.The responsesdescribinghimself as he is and as he would like to be were used in examining the self-concept.Children from fatherabsenthomes and those from the control group were similarin scoresdescribingthemselvesand also in scoresdescribinghow they would like to
be.14

A second assessmentof the self-conceptwas made using two scales from the CaliforniaTest of Personality,the scales labeled Belonging and Self-Reliance.The questions in these scales ask the child to describesome of his own habits and feelings in relationto certaintasks, to his peers, and to family members.When the responsesof the children from father-absenthomes were comparedwith those of children from motherfather homes, no significant differences were found betweenthe groups. The third instrumentfor measuringself-concept was the portion of the Bene-AnthonyFamily Relations Test dealing with statements ascribedto the self. In this test the child assigned statementsof affectionate and hostile feelings to various family members, including himself. There were no significant differencesbetween children from the father-absent homes and those from mother-fatherhomes in either the kinds or the total number of statements assigned to the self. As noted above, there was a Self-Conceptof the Child general tendency to assign statementsto other This variable was measuredby three instru- family members rather than to the child himments. The first, developed specificallyfor this self. This raises some question both about the study, was a check list of 32 personal qualities degree of consciousnessof self of children of or traits, 17 representingdesirablequalities and this age and about ability to expressideas about 15, undesirablequalities.Designation of a qual13 Two fifth-grade classes were used to pretest this instruity as desirableor undesirablewas accomplished ment. Each teacher was asked to designate the five children by two procedures. Six children aged 9 in her class she considered the most self-confident and the five confident. For the group of ten children rated as most through 11 years were given a list of qualities least self-confident, the mean score on this check list was 6.4; and asked to sort them into words describing for the ten least self-confident, the mean score was 2.2. The someone who was "good" or "happy" and size of the difference between mean scores indicates that the words describing someone who was "bad" or instrument discriminates in accord with teacher ratings of chilHowever, since the number of cases is "unhappy."The same list was given to five dren's self-confidence. must be interpreted as only possibly sugteachers who worked with 9- to 11-year-old small, the results gesting validity for the instrument. children,and they were asked to sort them into 14 For the self-descriptive category, mean scores were 6.5 desirable and undesirable qualities. The 32 for father-absent boys, 5.9 for mother-father boys (p = .50) father-absent girls, 6.6 for mother-father girls qualities selected for the final instrumentwere and= 7.0 for Mean scores from responses to the (p .70). unanimouslydefined as either desirableor un- category "how you would computed like to be" were 8.4 for fatherdesirableby both children and teachers.Scores absent boys, 7.9 for mother-father boys (p .60) and 7.5 for were computed by subtractingthe number of father-absent girls, 9.0 for mother-father girls (p =.40). 94 JOURNAL OIFMARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY February1968

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themselvesverbally.However, on the check list the children were able readily to select words describing themselves both as they are and as they would like to be. The mean number of words checkedas self-descriptiveof the 32 possible was 18.2 for the father-absent group and 19.2 for the mother-father group. Also, the 24 questionsabout the self that make up two scales of the California Test of Personalitywere always answered.Thus it appearsthat these children responded to specific stimuli to express self-concept but did not frequently refer to themselveswhen the stimuluswas more general as in the Family Relations Test. Consequently, it appears reasonableto assume that the children's responsesto specific stimuli do represent specific aspects of the self-concept; although they do not, of course,representan exploration in depth of this concept. In summary,three instrumentsquite distinct from one another in their approachwere used to measurethe self-concept.The results of all three instruments were that there were no significant differences between children from father-absent homes and children from motherfather homes. This similaritycertainlysuggests that there were not gross differences between the groups of children in the consciousperception of certainaspectsof the self. Exploratory Questions Open-ended questions asking for brief responses were used to explore additionalareasof the children'sattitudes.One of these asked "If you had one wish for a change in your family, what would you wish?" When the responses were categorized and tabulated, the children from father-absent homes showed patternsvery similar to those of children from mother-father homes. Categories and the percent of each group were:
Percent of Percent of childrren in children in fatE iermotherabsent father homes hornes (N = 45) (N = 35) 0.0 Change in parental status 13.3 6.7 Change in parental attributes 14.3 Change in attributes of the entire family 6.7 14.3 17.1 Change in family economic state 24.4 Addition of material objects 22.6 22.3 22.6 Change in sibling relationships 11.1 4.4 Change in self 2.9 No change 11.1 6.2

The distributionof all responsesby the two groups of childrenwas similar (p = .50). Only six of the children whose fathers were absent specificallyindicateda wish to have a father living in the home. The area of greatestclustering was in desires for economic improvementfor the family or the addition of materialobjects, possibly reflectingthe low socioeconomicstatus of the families. A second question asked, "If you had a big problem, to whom would you go?" The distributionsof responsesto this were very similar in the two groups of children (p = .70).
Percentof children in Percent of children in
fathermotherabsent father homes homes (N = 46) (N = 36) to mother 56.5 63.9 to father 34.7 33.3 to another woman 0.0 8.8 to another man 2.8 0.0

Would Would Would Would

go go go go

It is apparentthat about three-fifthsof the children would turn first to their mothers,although about one-thirdin both groups would turn first to their fathers. The other persons mentioned by a few childrenwere relatives,usually grandparents.
DISCUSSION

The most meaningful outcome of this study was the finding of many similarities and few differencesbetweenchildrenwhose fathershave been absent from their homes for two or more years becauseof divorce or separationand children whose fathers are living in their homes. Severalfactors should be consideredin examining this result. One probablyrelevantfactor is the age of the children studied, 9 to 11 years. If one assumes that this is a period of relative quiescence in personality development for most children, a time when they have consolidated the adjustments of early childhood and not yet begun the major adolescent transition to adulthood, one might expect specificpersonaland social adjustment problems to be relatively low. Also, for the childrenin the father-absent group, the immediate period of adjustmentto the departure of the father from the home was past, all fathers having been absent for at least two years and 81 percentfor longer periods. These conditions made it possible to comparegroups without major crisis or change factors influencing 95

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JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

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the results. Some observations suggest that failure to recognizethe specific influencesof crisis and change may sometimesbe involved in the perception of unusual degrees of difficultyin personal adjustmentin children whose fathers are absent from the home. On the other hand, real and importantdifferencesmight be found in children at ages such as adolescencewhen major changes in the nature of sexual identification are occurring. Carefully controlled studiesare necessary to ascertain this. Perhapsthe most importantfactor in evaluating the results is the matching of the two groups on socioeconomic variables. Although present researchon relationshipsbetween socioeconomic status and family variableshas many limitations, it strongly suggests variations in level. The defamily behaviorby socioeconomic level sign of this study controlledsocioeconomic in order to eliminate it as a possible cause of variation between groups. It also concentrated on families of low socioeconomicstatus. Impressionistic data from the interviews in the homes of our subjects suggest that the fathers who were present in the homes did not have particularlywarm or close relationships with their children. If these impressions reflect father-childrelationshipsin families of low socioeconomicstatus, then one might not expect the absenceof the father to have a very great effect on these children.Certainlyour findings of few differencesin the children are limited to the socioeconomiclevel of these families. One might hypothesizedifferentfindings with middle-class subjects with differentpatterns or expectations of father-childrelationships. All of the children studied were white, and

all family members were born in the United States. Consequently, there was no apparent influence of any ethnic subculturethat might attachless significanceto the role of the father than the dominantAmericanculture. Except for a few open-ended questions, the instrumentsin the study utilized objective scoring proceduresand relied on direct scoring of responses without interpretation. They have, therefore, the limitationsof fairly direct assessment of variablesat the conscious level of the subjects. However, when the area investigated is importantlyinvolved in the value system of the culture (as is the case here), techniquesrequiring significant degrees of interpretation have very serious limitations. Even if blind analysis of projective materials is carried out, knowledge of the subjectbeing investigatedon the part of the scorermay influencethe kinds of dimensions which are perceived. Consequently, we operated on the assumptionthat the variables studied are of an attitudinal and behavioral naturethat may be assessedby direct measurementto a significant degree. In almost all cases variableswere measuredby more than one instrument,with standardizedtests being used as one of the instrumentswhere possible. Results obtained by differentinstrumentssubstantiatedeach other. Finally, the frequent assumption that boys would be more affected than girls by the absence of a father was not supported by this the differencesthat were study. On the contrary, found between the two groups of children tended to differentiatebetween girls whose fathers were absent and those whose father lived in the home.

MEETING

ON NEGRO

LIFE AND

HISTORY

The fifty-thirdAnnual Meeting of the Associationfor the Studyof Negro Life and History will be held on October3-6, 1968, at the New York Hilton Hotel. Personsinterestedin proposingsessions or papers,or other participation, should write the ProgramChairman, Walter Fisher, of the of History,MorganStateCollege, Baltimore, Department 21212. Maryland

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JOURNAL OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY

February1968

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