How an Absent Father Affects Boys and Girls Differently


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of children living in mother-only households has risen from 8 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2010. Freakonomics has a long-standing interest in the role parents play in the lives of their children, and while we usually find no merit in helicopter parenting, a basic level of involvement is obviously important. Past research has shown that a father’s involvement with his children is linked to all kinds of beneficial outcomes, from higher academic achievement, improved social and emotional well-being, to lower incidences of delinquency, risk taking, and other problem behaviors.

A new working paper from authors Deborah A. Cobb-Clark and Erdal Tekin examines the relationship between juvenile delinquency and the role of a father in the household, particularly in terms of the different effects an absent father has on boys and girls. They discovered, among other things, that sons benefit far more from a father (or father-figure) than daughters do. From the abstract:

…we find that adolescent boys engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives. However, adolescent girls’ behavior is largely independent of the presence (or absence) of their fathers.

Though a non-residential father isn’t ideal, a father-like replacement does have positive effects on boys. A stepfather tends to reduce delinquent behavior, and having a father figure who puts in a significant quantity of time around a child is important.

Adolescent boys who have a father figure in their lives are significantly less likely to engage in subsequent delinquent behavior than are their peers with no father in their lives.  For example, the incidence of any form of delinquent behavior is 7.6 percentage points lower among boys living with their biological fathers and is 8.5 percentage points lower among boys who live with stepfathers and have no relationship with their biological fathers.

While daughters generally require a level of quality interaction with a father figure, sons benefit from sheer quantity of time, and respond simply to having a father or father figure around the house. Most interestingly, however, is the finding that daughters appear to be adversely affected by contact with their non-residential biological father.

It is also important to note that growing up with only a non-residential, biological  father who spent time talking with his adolescent daughter appears to be associated with slight increases in her delinquent behavior as measured by any type of crime, violent crime, and selling drugs once she reaches adulthood. This surprising result may be due to the possibility that these verbal interactions between the non-residential father and the adolescent  is an indication of a problematic relationship between the two, which might have manifested itself as delinquent behavior later in life.

For both young men and women, delinquent behavior decreased if their mothers simply spent time “doing things” with them during their adolescence. Mothers also do significantly more “talking” with their daughters than with their sons, a potential contributor for why sons are more affected by the absence of a father than daughters are. However, the authors note that:

Mothers also do not appear to compensate for the complete absence of a father figure by increasing their involvement with their children. In fact, it is those children without a father figure in their lives who engage in fewer activities and talk about fewer issues with their mothers.


I've been living without a father since 12, I'm 18 now. Reading this post made me cry, my mom is remarried to a uncaring jerk who shows affection to my brothers and sisters, none to me. My life is pretty messed up, they seem to have ended up fine..


I can kind of relate to this, however I didn't have a step dad I just had a jack ass of a dad. I felt like a failure and my life was soo messed up along with my head. At 17 I found photography, my life then spiralled out of my control... im now 19 and im making a change, no ones going to do that for you, you need to change whatever it is you're not happy about.

If you feel like a failure do something about it... find out what you're good at, what your talent is, something you're passionate about and do it. make something of it! I am in the process now of becoming a photographer, admittedly im not where i want to be yet but im getting there, taking baby steps.

Lifes not just something you take, its given.

Asim Munir Malik

My 2 sisters and myself grew up without our biological fathers. It was hard financially, with only a mother. I am a boy and had good chances in life like free education and my mother god social security. This was a lifesaver. I got a degree in computer science and had to pay very little for it. That led me onto a job and marraige. I have been married 15 and a 1/2 years now and have 2 teenagers. My 2 sisters are married with 2 kids each. They have bothe emigrated to usa and saudi arabia. We are doing better now. I have found out who are biological fathers were and what their names were. I had a tatoo on my arm with their names on it. We are the product of 2 divorces since infants and after infance we never saw oour biological fathers again. One of them is already dead. We live on. It was the social security and free education given by the uk that helped my mother and us cope. Good luck to you all.



Under the conditions where a 3 year old is abandoned by his natural father and then loses his natural mother to illness and then grows up in a foster home where he is adored by the female and abhorred by the male, would he be apt to dislike males, including himself? Would he be more apt to sabotage his own success?


I had my dad, up until the age of 9, and then I remember him taking me to his drug dealers house, I haven't seen him in 4-5 years. I got told he straightened up (which I hope he did), I have my step father and everyone tells me I should be grateful for that, but I want my real father, and my step father has looked at me and said "you aren't my kid" therefore, he is NOT my dad. I'd give anything to have my dad. I went to his house to see him, no answer. I called his dad's house, they hung up. I called his cellphone and got no answer and no phone call back. I'm running out of options. He didn't tell me about my brother, and sisters, there's nothing I can do. Even after everything, I love my daddy!


Very simple: 1 Man & 1 Woman create a child. Doesn't happen any other way, regardless of other view points. Therefore, a child's full development requires male and female influence. Logical. Once you deviate from the original blueprint --millions of problems. End of story.


I have no father. No stepfather. Hardly any money in our family because of an expensive trip I took and no second income to fill in for that. A five-year old half-brother that is shared between my mom and her ex,--who I despise because he once called my mom ugly--who's completely unaware of our messed up family. It has been like this for thirteen years, and according to my father's blog, he remarried years ago and probably has children, making me a potential half-sister for some innocent, happy child out there in the world. My mother will tell me nothing, even when I ask about my father. I had to search up my father's name on my passport. And looking at my friends, and other branches of the family with perfect fathers, I want to cry. And I do. A lot.
Sometimes I'm not Skylar, I'm just The Saddened.


I would just like to say from my perspective this study is very plausible.
I grew up without my biological farther and my mother was a single mother. My biological farther got in contact a few times while I was growing up and myself and my brother would see him sometimes but he would move about a lot and then we wouldn't see him for a long time.

I do believe not having my farther around affected me and I think it still does. However my mother spent a lot of time with me when I was growing up but my brother would rather be out with friends. My brother was troublesome during school and got expelled from 2 schools. When I was in secondary school I spent less time with my mother and during that time I engaged in some delinquent behaviour, however I think there were some other variables contributing to that, for example my friends and their family's.

I am now 19 and I moved out of my family home and now live alone. I could have a relationship with my biological farther but choose not to, I have a lot of anger and hatred towards him. The reasons to why however are not just because of the conversations we have had, there are other reasons that contribute. Not having a farther figure I believe has affected my life greatly in many ways and maybe in ways I don't know or understand yet.

I think the best thing to do if you're a single mother is to keep a strong relationship with your son or daughter, even in the adolescent years, no matter how much they will try to push you away... remember they still love you. Also if you are a biological farther that is non residential or for some reason don't see your children as often as you should I think the best thing to do is show them that you're there for them and you still love them and take the time to sit and talk to them and really listen to them. As for step fathers and adopted fathers I don't know much about that, but I have friends that have complained many many times about how they are not treated like they are your children. If you are a step farther or adopted farther don't make them feel like outsiders, treat them how you would your own biological children.


Grace Emma

Thank you for your great article! Everything you said about boys, I believe to be true. I don't however believe that girls are not as effected as boys. From the studies I have read girls without bio dads around are much more likely to do drugs, get pregnant as a teenager, and engage in dilequent behaviors.

Asim Munir Malik

My dad walked out on us when I was 2 years old. I never saw him again. My step dad walked out on us as well. I never saw him again. When I was 18 I joined a meditation group and the group leader was an old man. I stayed in the group for a very long time and the group leader became a father figure/mentor/guide to me. That father hunger in my life was satisfied eventually. I feel whole again.
When sons or daughters never see their fathers again - TIME IS A HEALER. It heals all wounds and hole you may have inside yourself or emotional problems you might have. It has done so for me. Good luck and god bless.


Rubbish ,. My son grew up without a father but is the best kid on this earth. No worries, kind sweet gentle natured and polite, It depends on how you treat them.

Dranoel Oot

I found it difficult to live with women of the sort.

Dranoel Oot

I married a woman whose mother were married to four husbands but never got old with either of them. This woman was so problematic until I divorced her. Now am happily married again and she's desperate.

Christopher Scheetz

I'm currently working no a paper having to do with the absurd behavior exhibited by the character Meursault in The Stranger. The setting starts in his adult years. Interestingly enough there is no mention of a father figure or his childhood years throughout the novel. I'm trying to objectively prove that Meursault's indifferent and desensitized treatment towards the women characters showcased throughout the novel are associated with my theory that he was exposed to abusive, alcoholic male figures throughout his childhood, thus proving his awareness and passion into the philosophy of the Absurd was triggered in his childhood or adolescence.

mark bradley

Why why why are gay men allowed to have children,l am a male from a single parent up bringing only had my father with me for 7months.
My sister unfortunately never saw him at all, l am 14 months older than she...
Sons who are brought into the world without their fathers struggle with so many aspects through out there livs MIND BOGGLING ASPECTS, the affects of so much interference with in his mind where you have a farther figure either to ask about or consider a very important issue with fathers high insight to use ..
Man in society has a role to play

mark bradley

Other confusing aspects are not just physical and mental,the most of the issues are very very small but they are not only the small minority questions ws all as whist growing up he has massive mail violents he doesn't know anything about or what or where to go for advice, (when you are living on a massive council estate where you are judged by how hard you are is the way forward,,this still happens to its full even though you are 6'3" tall and built, the tiniest of males who are from family of brothers would have great buzzing time and place to start a bit of a fight with you to boost his presents for the split seconds he tried, l used to. Tolerate it didn't know what to do see.

Chadrick Price

it is true because a boy or a girl needs a father figure


My husband due to his work lives in amother specially my 8 years daughter seems so uncomfortable & unrelaxed all the time. She usually behaves weird specially with food she always wants to take others food and demands even mote than her needs, does this attitude due to missing her dad around all the time??