- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

The decades-long rise in father absence has stopped, the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) says in its fourth edition of "Father Facts," which is being released today.

From 1960 to 1996, the number of children who lived in homes without a father or a stepfather rose steadily, from 7 million to 20 million, the 182-page report said.

Since the mid-1990s, though, the number and proportion of children in father-absent homes has leveled off, while the number of children living with both parents has remained fairly constant.

"Nobody knows for sure why" the numbers have stabilized, "but the fatherhood movement surely deserves some credit," Wade F. Horn, former NFI president, and researcher Tom Sylvester wrote in the report's introduction.

Still, "there will be little reason to celebrate if fatherlessness merely levels off at historically high levels," wrote Mr. Horn, who is now assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Research shows that "the most effective pathway to involved fatherhood is marriage," said NFI President Roland C. Warren, who added that he hoped the new NFI report would inform Capitol Hill discussions about welfare reform and government-funded marriage promotion.

"Father Facts" is a compilation of the latest data regarding fathers, mothers, children, family well-being, marriage and divorce, "fragile families," child custody, child support, stepfamilies and adoption.

NFI editors note that past editions of "Father Facts" have been criticized as exaggerating the negative impacts of father absence and downplaying the efforts of single mothers and stepfathers.

"Nowhere does 'Father Facts' indicate that a child who grows up without his or her father is doomed," the editors wrote. However, data show that father absence "significantly increases the risk that a child will suffer negative outcomes," they said.

Among the findings in "Father Facts":

•Thirty-four percent of children, or 24 million, live in homes without their biological fathers. This includes 66 percent of black children, 35 percent of Hispanic children and 27 percent of white children.

•A record 1.35 million unwed births were reported in 2000.

•Children who live apart from their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, suffer abuse, engage in criminal behavior and have emotional, health and behavioral problems compared with peers in married, biological or adoptive homes.

•Father love is as important as mother love in predicting the overall development of children and young adults, according to an analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships.

•The number of cohabiting partners with children has doubled, from 891,000 in 1990 to 1.7 million in 2000. Some 3.3 million children live in cohabiting households.

•Children who live with their mothers and boyfriends often experience behavioral problems and do worse in school than children who live with their married, biological parents.

•Twenty years after divorce, fewer than a third of sons and a fourth of daughters are close to their fathers, compared with 70 percent of children in intact families, according to a longitudinal study of 2,500 children by E. Mavis Hetherington.

•The best predictor of father presence is marriage.

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