Father-Absence, Social Equality, and Social Progress
Abstract: Father-Absence, Social Equality and Social Progress
The future of the male half of the U.S. population is less certain than it once was. News outlets now regularly report that women outnumber men in college, and might soon outnumber them in the workforce. These reports rightly grab attention. Men’s growing absence from the lives of their own biological children, however, is too little explored. The 2007 Census update reported that of the nineteen million children living in lone-parent households, sixteen and one-half million lived with their mothers alone. Fewer than 30 percent of these fathers have even weekly contact with their children. Poor and minority communities experience father-absence far more often than the privileged.
Most responses to this (growing) phenomenon consider its relationship to child well-being. This is an important focus, but not the only one. The welfare of mothers, fathers and society is influenced by parenting. Without fathers’ assistance, women will carry unsustainable parenting loads; their economic and physical outcomes will suffer. Without fathering experience, men will easily fail to develop the gifts and skills that arise from caring unconditionally and over the long-run, for others. This raises questions about their ability and willingness, as leaders and employees of social institutions, to respond to the needs of parents and children generally. The idea that men and women are incapable of overcoming their intrinsic differences – even to care for their children – could gain credibility. Finally, there is the possibility that fatherlessness, with all of its associated disadvantages, will come to define and to widen the social gap between the wealthy and the poor, and between majority and minority racial groups.
Any response to father-absence is bound to displease some. U.S. family law regularly characterizes adults’ choices about intimate relationships and childbearing in terms of “autonomy.” Some women and men prefer father-absence. This area of law is also – and for good reason – concerned about any move that looks likely to “re-gender” the law, or to minimize the phenomenon of intimate partner violence. Finally, there is a perception among some family law scholars that extended attention to the “problems” of fatherlessness only undermines efforts toward the real needs of children and their single mothers – economic assistance and social acceptance.
This paper wades into the question of parenting and gender anyway, but with an eye toward these legitimate concerns. It offers both the warrants for and the constraints conditioning the law’s entry into the subject matter of fatherlessness. It summarizes briefly the most salient empirical findings about the interaction between involved fathers, co-parenting, and children’s and parents’ welfare. It concludes that fathers contribute measurably to their children’s well-being, both alone and in tandem with mothers, and offers both legal and cultural proposals to promote involved fatherhood and co-parenting, in light of the relevant data.. The Conclusion suggests several long term and fundamental risks of the continuation or worsening of extant fathering and co-parenting patterns.
helen m. alvare. 2010. "Father-Absence, Social Equality, and Social Progress" ExpressO
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/helen_alvare/1