Dads may be the key to saving children from poverty.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent report on income and poverty in 2014, children who are born in father-absent homes are more than four times more likely to suffer from poverty than children born in married homes.
In fact, the report said 1 in 2 children from father-absent homes were impoverished, while 1 in 10 children from homes with married parents were in poverty, according to the report. It was roughly the same for children who were under 6 years old and didn’t have a father present.
“These disturbing, depressing numbers show that the mere presence of more married fathers in children's lives will, from a population-based perspective, reduce child poverty,” Christopher A. Brown, the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, wrote for The Huffington Post.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, about 24 million children (1 in 3) live in father-absent homes. Children from those homes — who are more likely to be in poverty because they live in a single-parent household with just one income — are more likely to involve themselves in crime, alcohol and drug use, and drop out of school, among other issues, according to the National Center for Fathering.
“Children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems,” the NFI reported. “Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.”
Getting fathers to stay in their marriage and homes will help, though, Brown wrote.
But encouraging fathers to stay in their child’s life won’t be easy, according to Brown. Modern American culture doesn’t embrace marriage and strong parental bonds like it once did, Brown wrote, with millennials choosing to wait until they’re older to get married (though that's still up for debate). And, because of these trends, more children are being born to parents who aren’t married, Brown wrote.
There’s proof of this, too. Only half of young dads aren’t married at the birth of their child, according to the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Similarly, the Health Indicators Warehouse reported that 39.5 percent of children were born to unmarried women in 2013 — up from 39.4 percent in 2012 and 39.3 percent in 2011 and 2010 — which often leads to upbringings without fathers.
Brown suggests American culture change its perspective on marriage to help change these numbers, specifically pushing the “importance of living in a married-parent home for child well-being.”
To do this, Americans will have to stop making marriage only about personal interests, and more about how marriage can help build their family best, Brown wrote.
“While it is important that people feel fulfilled in marriage, the problem is far too many of us have separated marriage from its function of providing the ideal environment in which to raise healthy children and, thus, deny its impact on child well-being to the extent that we focus only on personal well-being,” Brown wrote.
That may require teaching parents how to handle conflict. NPR’s Jennifer Ludden reported last year that some programs and initiatives aim to help parents communicate better and get along with each other so that they can provide proper parenting toward their children.
Improving relationships between parents could help them raise their children in environments where both parents are involved, which would help free them of poverty issues, Ludden reported.
"If they're not together, the goal is better communication," Jennifer Jennette, a program manager at the Community Action Commission of Erie, Huron and Richland Counties in Ohio, told NPR. "I don't maybe like him, I'm maybe not with him anymore, but it's not about him or me. It's about my child, and how do we want to make his life better?"
This fits with what Brown, the president of the NFI, wrote for The Huffington Post back in March and reaffirmed in his more recent HuffPost blog post: It’s important not to give up on marriage in order to help children avoid poverty.
“We can't give up on marriage,” he wrote. “We must start by looking at it in a different way -- not as a zero-sum game between whether its role is personal fulfillment or to raise healthy children, but as an institution that can and should fulfill both roles.”
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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.