As is so often the case, here’s a Barbara Kay column that’s well worth reading (New York Daily News, 6/16/12). Kay is so good – so accurate, so fact-based, so clear-seeing – that I really have little to add to what she writes. That too is the usual when it comes to Kay.
Her column is a broad address about the importance of fathers to children and to society generally. It’s about what I’ve discussed ad infinitum – the unwillingness of family courts to acknowledge the decades of social science on fathers and children and to change their ways in the allocation of parenting time. In 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau showed mothers to be about 84% of custodial parents; by 2009, the figure was about 83%. In short, courts doggedly resist the legitimate rights of fathers to their children and children to their fathers, to their everlasting shame.
Kay mentions one thing that’s never occurred to me:
And yet there are about four million lone fathers in America — through widowhood, or because their ex-wives didn’t want to mother, or were too dysfunctional to share parenting. This is an enormous control group about which we can learn much.
If mothers were better at parenting than fathers, surely we would be aware of indicators that ‘motherlessness’ causes more problems than fatherlessness. But there is no such evidence. Nevertheless, female superiority in parenting remains an article of faith amongst intellectual elites, and through trickledown effect, to judges who simply channel their bias.
Yep, and that point is buttressed by far more data than just those four million single fathers. Canadian Paul Millar studied the raw data on parents and children compiled by StatsCan, the official statistical agency of the Canadian government. He found that the salient fact about Canadian child custody post-divorce is that it is almost exclusively maternal custody (about 90% of the children of divorce there live with their mother). So there’s a powerful systemic bias in favor of mothers. But Millar found that there is literally no evidence that maternal custody results in improved outcomes for children. In fact, the opposite may be true – that maternal custody may have an adverse effect on children’s well-being. The best interests of children aren’t served by maternal custody, but the courts go right on ordering it anyway.
One important fact that Kay doesn’t mention is the American study that recently concluded that single mothers tend to invest less in their sons than in their daughters. That lack of emotional investment means they read less to their sons, cuddle them less, sing to them less, etc. than they do their daughters. The unsurprising result is male children with less self-confidence than their sisters and with less ability to perform well in the educational system. In other words, the enormous increase in single motherhood over the last 40 years goes a long way to explain the poorer outcomes of all children, but particularly boys.
As bad as fatherlessness is for children, it’s bad for fathers as well. As Kay points out, fathers suffer greatly at the loss of their children post-divorce. The fact that some 70% of divorces are filed by women is entirely explained by the fact that they know they won’t lose their kids. For women, divorce means they’ll still get the man’s income in the form of child support and, in most jurisdictions, spousal support, all the while keeping the children. What’s the downside to them? Fathers, by contrast, lose children, family and money. So it’s no surprise that women often see little reason to remain married while men see little reason for divorce.
As Kay points out, bad as that situation is for dads, it’s actually far worse for some:
Fathers suffer terribly when their children are wrenched from their lives. It’s no coincidence that men’s suicide rates skyrocket after divorce, while women’s rates stay flat.
Kay’s piece is typically excellent. By all means, click on the link and read it.
Thanks to Jeremy for the heads-up.