Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 21 September |
The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

The research is in: Fathers are not replaceable



Lucandrea Massaro - published on 06/30/17

The stable presence of dads in their children's lives greatly enhances their behavior, personality, and happiness.

Science has begun to look more closely at the father figure, especially in the English-speaking world where family breakdown is more prevalent. Two independent researchers at prestigious British universities reached similar conclusions: the nuclear family works. Moreover, the presence of the biological father cannot easily be replaced by another father figure. The stable presence of the father in the life of the children greatly enhances children’s mental and linguistic development.

Biology matters

Elena Mariani, who holds a doctorate in demography at the London School of Economics, published a study in the European Journal of Population entitled “Family Trajectories and the Well-being of Children Born to Lone Mothers in the UK,” along with co-authors Berkay Özcan and Alice Goisis. The study “confirms that the absence of the father figure has negative effects for children even if that absence is not due to separation, as in cases where the father was not there since birth.”

The study found that a stable family situation plays an important role in a child’s well-being: children who have a stepfather, for example, do not seem to benefit from the new family situation compared to children who have only lived with the mother.

The benefits become visible if the biological father rejoins the family, although the positive impact is “quite modest.” Mariani points out that children in broken and then reconstituted families remain “disadvantaged with respect to children who have lived with their biological parents since birth.”

Read more:
The Fight for Fatherhood

If the returned biological father ends up later moving away from the family, the children are worse off than children who have only lived with their mother. The study says the “stress of change” probably undermines the previous positive effects of the father’s initial return.

The father’s attitude is key

A second study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, entitled “Father-Child Interactions at 3 Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months” demonstrates the beneficial effects of the father’s presence in a young child’s life.

The researchers subjected the children to a series of cognitive tests, including one that measured their understanding of a book and their recognition of shapes and colors. The first obvious result is that the children who performed best on the tests, whether male or female, are those who have spent more time with their fathers from their very first months. “Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development,” Professor Paul Ramchandani, Head of Research, told Science Daily.

“We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills,” explains Dr. Vaheshta Sethna, King’s College, one of three institutions (along with Imperial College and Oxford) that conducted the research. “This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children,” she added.

Read more:
The Death of Zeus and the Healing of Fatherhood

The father-child relationship is central

For some time, studies have revealed how much attachment to the paternal figure is a positive element that helps little ones develop. A “good dad” who is attentive to the needs of his child will make him or her a serene adult.

According to a previous government-sponsored report in the UK, “the quality and content of father’s involvement matter more for children’s outcomes than the quantity of time fathers spend with their children.”

The same study found that children benefit greatly when fathers take an interest in their education. Some of the positive outcomes include better test scores and a higher level of educational attainment overall. Children with involved, attentive fathers are also more likely to show a more positive attitude and better behavior, the report found.

This article was originally published in the Italian Edition of Aleteia.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Esteban Pittaro
Argentine “Mother Teresa” was a former model and actress who embr...
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Cerith Gardiner
12 Habits of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that every young adult...
Visalia CHURCH
J-P Mauro
The largest Catholic parish church in the US will soon be in Cali...
Zelda Caldwell
A pilgrimage to Paris’ Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.