You are on page 1of 6

Martin Henry , Contributor

Fatherlessness is an albatross around the neck of this nation, weighing
us down and choking development. We have elevated the single mother
to near national hero, right up there near Nanny of the Maroons. But this
sentimental elevation does not change the harsh facts of the negative
impact of father absence.
The best data on the impact on children of father absence comes out of
the United States, and there sociologist David Popenoe has made quite
a name for himself studying Life Without Father, the title of his flagship
book on the subject. The Americans are more concerned with father
absence from the rising divorce trend there, although African Americans
lead that country with 65 per cent out-of-marriage births, while managing
to remain at the economic base of the society, a condition usually and
conveniently blamed on race rather than on family.
Our fatherlessness problem is being a world leader in fathering children
outside marriage or even permanent committed relationships, something
which we have glorified and normalised. The 2011 census says 68 per
cent of Jamaicans over 16 (why starting at 16?) have never married,
against a mere 24 per cent which have and remain married. Over 80 per
cent of Jamaican children are born out of wedlock. The majority of these
used to not even have their father's name on their birth certificate, the
most basic association with a father. The Registrar General's
Department has been trying to change this, and it would be good to hear
what the current figure is.
This extraordinary national lack of commitment to formal marriage would
be bad and not too bad if stable and permanent alternative relationships
were the order of the day. But we know that the loose visiting relationship
starting early in life, with multiple sequential partnerships over the prime

childbearing and child-rearing years, is a main feature of man-womanchild relationship here.

Writing late last century, the sociologist of fatherhood, David Popenoe,
declared, "The decline of fatherhood is one of the most unexpected and
extraordinary social trends of our time. In just three decades - 1960 to
1990 - the number of children living apart from their biological fathers
[that is: natural fathers] nearly doubled. By the turn of the century, almost
50 per cent of North American children may be going to sleep each
evening without being able to say good night to their dads."
Popenoe is talking about divorce in the United States. We are talking
about fathers who have never made the commitment of marriage or
even of sticking around.
There was a time when fatherlessness was high on account of death.
But: "A surprising suggestion emerging from recent social-science
research," Popenoe points out, "is that it is decidedly worse to a child to
lose a father in the modern, voluntary way than through death. The
children of divorced and never-married mothers are less successful by
almost every measure than the children of widowed mothers ... . And
there is reason to believe that having an unmarried father is even worse
for a child than having a divorced father."
And the statistical analyses of the US data are showing that children
from a fatherless home are:
20 times more likely to end up in prison;
32 times more likely to run away.
20 times more likely to have behavioural disorders.
14 times more likely to commit rape;
Nine times more likely to drop out of high school;
10 times more likely to abuse drugs;

Five times more likely to commit suicide;

Nine times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution;
Two times more likely to have children during their teenage years;
The litany of disaster continues in the US statistics:
85% of all children that exhibit behavioural disorders come from
fatherless homes;
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes;
71% of all high-school dropouts come from fatherless homes;
71% of teenage pregnancies are to children of single parents, so the
cycle continues;
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical-abuse centres come from
fatherless homes;
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes;
80% of rapists come from fatherless homes;
70% of juveniles in state facilities come from fatherless homes;
85% of all incarcerated youths grew up in a fatherless home.
Edward Kruk, writing about father absence, father deficit and father
hunger in Psychology Today, produced his own list of woes from the
Children without fathers actively in their lives have diminished selfconcept, and compromised physical and emotional security. These
children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not
involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and bouts of selfloathing. Jamaican children do not articulate well their feelings, perhaps
because of cultural constraints against doing so, but there is no question

that these feelings exist, and with devastating personal, social and
economic consequences.
Kruk underlines the behavioural problems. Fatherless children have
more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report
problems with friendships, and manifest behaviour problems; many
develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise
their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness. Gangs
and violence and the adoration of the gun as power spring out of this
Fatherless children show greater truancy from school and poorer
academic performance. Some 71 per cent of high-school dropouts, Kruk
points out, again, are fatherless. Fatherless children have more trouble
academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and
thinking skills.
Fatherlessness is a driver for delinquency and youth crime, including
violent crime, Kruk notes, with 85 per cent of youth in prison having an
absent father.
Promiscuity and teen pregnancy are much worse for children without
father presence. Fatherless children, Continued from F3
Kruk notes, are more likely to experience problems with sexual health,
including a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16,
foregoing contraception during first intercourse, becoming teenage
parents, and contracting sexually transmitted infection.
Girls, in the language of psychology, manifest an object hunger for
males, and in experiencing the emotional loss of their fathers
egocentrically as a rejection of them become susceptible to exploitation
by adult men.
And drug and alcohol abuse rises for fatherless children, who are much

more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs in childhood and
Somewhat surprisingly, fatherless children experience more exploitation
and abuse. Fatherless children are at greater risk, Kruk says, of suffering
physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, being five times more likely to
have experienced physical abuse and emotional maltreatment, with a
100 times higher risk of fatal abuse. One study reported that
preschoolers not living with both of their biological parents are 40 times
more likely to be sexually abused.
Physical and mental health is affected negatively by fatherlessness.
Fatherless children report significantly more psychosomatic health
symptoms and illnesses such as acute and chronic pain, asthma,
headaches, and stomach aches. Father-absent children are consistently
over-represented on a wide range of mental-health problems, particularly
anxiety, depression and suicide, and they even die younger, on average,
Kruk shows. Fatherless children live an average of four years less over
the lifespan!
Their life chances are poorer. As adults, fatherless children are more
likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social
assistance, and experience homelessness.
And this terrible cycle tends to perpetuate itself as father-starved
children have poorer and weaker relationships. Father-absent children
tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve
their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside
marriage or outside any stable partnership.
Even if there are mitigating factors like the celebrated grandma factor in
our parenting, when these disastrous outcomes are transposed to the
Jamaican situation where stable two-parent families with strong father
presence have never been the norm, even without our own hard data, it

is frighteningly clear that we are confronted with a major social disaster.

Some of our biggest problems: crime, low educational performance, poor
social relations, and, yes, weak economic performance have their roots
in family structure.
As Popenoe puts it: "Men are not biologically attuned to being committed
fathers. Left culturally unregulated, men's sexual behaviour can be
promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak.
In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions to bind men to their
children, and of course the institution of marriage has been culture's
chief vehicle.
"Our experience in [contemporary] society shows what happens when
such a sanction breaks down. The decline of fatherhood is a major force
behind many of the most disturbing problems that plague us."
The benefits of actively engaged fatherhood are not only for the children,
Popenoe points out. "Child-rearing encourages men to develop those
habits of character - including prudence, cooperativeness, honesty, trust
and self-sacrifice - that can lead to achievement as an economic
And women benefit, too. Poor women and their children are more likely
to escape poverty in a stable relationship with a man who is an active
father of the children. "Just as it seems to play a role in assaults on
children, the sociologist notes, fatherlessness appears to be a factor in
generating more violence against women. Partly this is a matter of
arithmetic. As the number of unattached males in the population goes
up, so does the incidence of violence towards women," the sociologist of
fatherhood reasons.