Good news for a change! A recent study from the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) shows that fathers are spending an hour more per week with their children than fathers two decades ago. Moreover, there has been a noticeable decrease in fatherless households, from “20.6 million in 2012 to 18.4 million in 2022.”
Clearly, the biggest winners of this are the children. It’s not enough that they have a person who can materially provide for them. They need the masculine presence of a dad who can serve as a role model, create emotional stability, and protect them from both physical and spiritual harms.
Boys in particular suffer enormously without their fathers. Without that role model, they are more likely to channel their energy in destructive ways and fritter away their potential in vain pursuits. Girls also suffer without a father, and may fall prey to harmful ideas and predators because they have no protector. More fathers spending more time at home will presumably lead to safer, kinder children growing up with brighter prospects. Wives and mothers also benefit from the extra help, whether they are stay-at home moms or working mothers, who both take on the lion’s share of parenting.
More broadly, the news of fathers being more present can help dispel the popular stereotype of the clueless dad who creates more problems than he solves or the deadbeat dad who neglects his family. More and more, whenever I go to church, visit the library, help coach my children’s soccer games, or attend some family-friendly event, I see fathers taking charge. They are changing diapers, cleaning up messes, carrying toys and snacks, supervising their children, explaining what’s happening, and modeling good behavior. By contrast, it’s increasingly rare to see fathers dumping on mothers or gone from the scene altogether.
These men are probably realizing what they’re missing out on. Along with mothers and children, fathers themselves are the main beneficiaries of spending more quality time with their children. Each bath, bedtime story, breakfast, trip to the park, and every other activity is one more moment of bonding and personal growth. In my experience, the fathers who spend more time with their kids are generally more mature, more patient, and happier. The fathers who outsource this responsibility to their wives or nannies are usually the opposite. Then again, as a father of small children, I might be a little biased.
Unfortunately, the news is not all positive. While the average number of hours a father spends with his kids is up, it’s gone down for dads who didn’t go to college compared to 2003 numbers. It may be harder for men without degrees to achieve a lifestyle that allows them to spend more time with their children. This is something that policy scholar Michael Lind argues in his recent book, Hell to Pay, and the IFS study supports this hypothesis.
Worse still, there is a widening fatherhood gap between different racial groups. Although Asian and white fathers are more likely to stay with their families and spend more time with their kids, Hispanic fathers are spending less time with their kids than before, and the engagement for black fathers is up slightly but still depressingly low.
Considering the crucial benefits of a father at home, it turns out conservatives were right to point to fatherlessness as an important factor in discussions of racial disparities. Before looking for possible systemic oppression, social reformers should look for Dad; he’s a more important factor than any affirmative action, welfare payments, educational restructuring, or “anti-racist” initiatives.
Of course, the whole thing that ties all of this together is marriage. As the IFS study shows — and common sense would suggest — married fathers are spending much more time (over an hour more per week) with their children than unmarried fathers, even those who cohabitate with the children’s mother. This disparity is obviously far wider for unmarried or divorced fathers who don’t live with the mother or child.
Beyond the practical arrangement of marriage that generally keeps all parties under the same roof, the defined roles and core mission of marriage, as it’s traditionally understood, make it a much better option for children. Unlike a live-in boyfriend who has children out of wedlock, the married man does more than stick around and pitch in while he figures out what he wants; he leads and takes responsibility for his household.
It’s also worth noting that it is the married men in America actually having more children (and more sex) in the first place. As Americans have fewer children than before, it’s possible that the people who see the value in making sacrifices of time, money, and freedom to take on the responsibility of having children are increasingly the same kind of people who make efforts to spend time with their kids. These men and their families are the ones who will rebuild society, not the unmarried man-children who fear commitment and responsibility.
For this reason, we should all do our part to encourage marriage, fatherhood, and ever more involvement at home. Simply earning a paycheck is not enough, and it never was. Children want more time with their dads. Men should give them that time and recognize that it’s a good thing for everyone.