Are Fatherless Children at a Behavioral and Cognitive Disadvantage?

Single-parent households are becoming more common throughout the United States and Canada. Research has shown that these families often have lower socio-economic statuses (SES) than two-parent families, and that children from these families are less likely to graduate high school than children who are raised in two-parent households. Additionally, children of single-mother households are at increased risk to develop psychological issues. “In general, research has indicated that children who experience fathers’ absence from the home at various points during childhood are more likely than other children to display internalizing problems, such as sadness, social withdrawal, and anxiety, as well as externalizing problems, such as aggression, impulsivity, and hyperactivity,” said Erin Pougnet of Concordia University and lead author of a study examining the effects of a father’s influence on behavioral and cognitive development.

Pougnet and her colleagues looked at 138 families from low SES communities to find out how a father’s presence would impact a child’s development in teen years. The researchers examined data that was collected when the children were in early elementary school and again three to five years later during pre-middle school to middle school ages. “The results indicated that for girls only, fathers’ presence in middle childhood predicted fewer internalizing problems in preadolescence.” The team added, “For both boys and girls, fathers’ positive parental control predicted higher Performance IQ and fewer internalizing problems over six years later.” They noted also that the children who had educated fathers experienced the highest levels of internalizing; suggesting that further research is needed in this area.  “These results suggest that fathers’ presence in middle childhood and early control might be important for children’s later cognitive and behavioural functioning for reasons other than fathers’ income contribution to the family, even among socioeconomically at-risk families.” The team concluded, “Initiatives such as parental leave for men and parenting classes that emphasize the role of fathers could help to maximize children’s development from early childhood to preadolescence.”

Pougnet, Erin, Lisa A. Serbin, Dale M. Stack, and Alex E. Schwartzman. “Fathers’ Influence on Children’s Cognitive and Behavioural Functioning: A Longitudinal Study of Canadian Families.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 43.3 (2011): 173-82. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • B.taylor


    October 5th, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    Although having both parents with you during the growing up years sounds great,it is something on a fast decline in our country with the number of divorces going through the roof.

    The schools should keep an eye on students with just one parent in the house and if there is any dip in their grades they should talk to the students.This would be a good start.

  • regina


    October 6th, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    In most cases I would not say this is only due to the lack of a male in the home, but really the lack of any stabilizing factor in their lives. They are being raised in a single parent home with little to no adut guidance and whether this comes from a man or a womn it is necessary to have for the child. And when this is missing there is a very important piece to child development that goes missing too. Children should not have to raise themselves, but this is becoming more the norm than not. Kind of makes you wistful for the good old days all over again, but those days could be gone for good.

  • frank


    October 6th, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    my dad was my first hero.I’m a senior in college now and he still is my hero.

    he was the one who bonded with me and my siblings like a few fathers can and together with mom was the best things that could have happened to us.they always let us explore but also had rules for us.I can’t be enough thankful to them for whatever they have done for us.

    a home without either one of the parents will not be the same that I’m sure.damage could be done but the magnitude depends on various other factors too.a determined child may surge ahead even without a parent,no one knows!

  • JIMI


    October 7th, 2011 at 3:22 AM

    I’ve grown up with friends who grew up with only their mother,friends who grew up only with their father and friends who grew up with both their parents.And I would say yes,a parent’s absence does have a big impact on the child.

    Unless the one parent still with the child does something extraordinary,the child will always feel the void and things will happen as a result of this.

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