Fortunately, most children raised by a single parent grow up without serious problems. But for many children, not having their biological father or a loving father substitute in the home can have detrimental effects, making it harder to navigate childhood and adolescent challenges, such as socialization and academic success. Daughters of absentee fathers face additional complications, especially in the areas of emotional health and social stability.
The negative impact of a father's absence is seen most strikingly in the increased risk of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. This heightened risk is present even after accounting for economic disadvantages and other problems faced by single-parent families, according to Bruce J. Ellis, University of Arizona professor of Family Studies and Human Development. In the United States, girls raised in homes without their biological father are four times more likely to engage in sexual activity at an early age, and are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant as teens, says Amber Hinton-Dampf, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri.
The connection between daughters and their fathers is so significant that many women who grew up without their biological fathers struggle with ongoing fear of abandonment, says Pamela Thomas, author of "Fatherless Daughters: Turning the Pain of Loss into the Power of Forgiveness." The fear of abandonment can lead to problems with emotional intimacy and an inability to trust, factors that can have a profound negative effect on romantic, as well as other, relationships.
Quality of Life
Girls with absent fathers often face additional economic and educational challenges. Children in fatherless households are four times more likely to live below the poverty level or receive food stamps than their counterparts in father-present households, according to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report. Furthermore, fatherless children are less likely to excel academically than children with two highly involved parents, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Good News
While fatherless daughters face multiple challenges, the outlook for daughters with absentee fathers is neither bleak nor hopeless, says Thomas. Fatherless daughters whose mothers raise them with intelligence, strength and empathy have an easier time meeting those challenges, Thomas notes in a 2009 Psychology Today article. The trials of growing up as a fatherless daughter often carry over into adulthood, but letting go of misplaced self-blame and forgiving those who created the hurtful childhood circumstances can pave the way for personal fulfillment, educational and career achievement and healthy relationships.
- Center for Law and Social Policy: Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?
- National Institutes of Health: Does Father Absence Place Daughters At Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?
- University of Missouri Doctoral Dissertation: Father-Daughter Relationship and Teen Pregnancy
- Psychology Today: Our Fathers, Ourselves
- U.S. Census Bureau: America’s Families and Living Arrangements, 2012
- National Center for Education Statistics: Fathers’ and Mothers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools by Family Type and Resident Status
- Photo Credit AlekZotoff/iStock/Getty Images
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