The Difference A Dad Makes

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This Father’s Day Weekend, I happen to be turning 40. Fortunately, with a wife and four young children, there will be precious little time to worry about any looming mid-life crisis. The emphasis will remain, full speed ahead, on fatherhood. But it’s worth taking a moment amidst the chaos of youth soccer carpools and stepping on Legos to reflect on how important the calling of fatherhood is.  As the recent study published by Massachusetts Family Institute titled Fatherlessness: The Economic and Social Costs to Our Commonwealth points out, the makeup of families in the Bay State has changed a great deal since my first birthday. 

Four decades ago, I was born at Lawrence General Hospital to a married mother and father, whose strong, stable commitment to each other and their children gave my siblings and me dramatic, often life-long advantages over our peers who weren’t so fortunate.  The statistics are compelling; children who grow up in married family homes are far less likely to experience poverty, commit crime, drop out of school or be victims of domestic violence.  Raised in a quiet suburb on the North Shore, I assumed that everyone had the same advantages I did, and I actually wasn’t that far off.  In the late 1970s in Massachusetts, roughly nine out of ten children were born, as I was, into a home with a married mother and father.  A generation later, my own children are still in the majority, but fully one third of their peer group (almost 440,000 children) are being raised without the benefit of both parents under one roof. For the overwhelming majority of these children, this means specifically growing up without a father.


Source of data:  U.S. Bureau of the Census. Census of the population 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990, U.S. Department of Commerce. Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Data Center (2013). Children in single-parent families:  Massachusetts, 2003-2013. Analysis by Population Reference Bureau of data from the U.S Census Bureau, Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, 2001 Supplementary Survey, and 2002 through 2015 American Community Survey (ACS). Accessed via Kids Count web site:


Kids are expensive, and it’s hard to imagine supporting a family alone. But children who have fathers in the home don’t just have access to a second income stream, they have, on average, an exponentially higher level of financial security and opportunity. For example, the median annual household income in Massachusetts for married-couples with children is more than $120,000. For homes without a father present, it is less than $30,000. The benefit of a married mother-father family is greater than simply the sum of its parts.

Source of data:  U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey (ACS), 2015. Table S0901. Characteristics of Children. Accessed via the AmericanFactFinder web site:


This seems to also be true when we look at the impact of fathers on communities as a whole.  A survey of the 52 largest cities and towns in the Commonwealth demonstrates a powerful correlation between marriage and family income. There is a dramatic rise in a community’s median household income as the percentage of children who live with married parents increases. For example, barely a third of children in Springfield live with both parents, and the median household income for their city is at rock bottom – just over $30,000 per year.  On the other hand, in Lexington nearly 90 percent of children live with both their mother and father, and the median annual income there is more than $200,000. When you lay out all 52 cities and towns graphically, you see that once a community has approximately four out of five children living in homes with both parents, the average household income skyrockets.

Source of data:  ACS 2011-2015, op. cit. Table S0901. Characteristics in Children in Massachusetts and Its 52 Largest Cities, calculated by Andrew Beckwith, May 2017.


The benefits of having a married father in the home aren’t limited to finances, however. Bay State children with a married dad have less than a 4 percent chance of repeating a grade in school. By contrast, their classmates whose fathers never married their mothers have a 30 percent chance of falling behind academically. In fact, the three Massachusetts cities with the highest rates of fatherless homes (Springfield, Fall River, and New Bedford – all over 50 percent) also have the highest levels of child poverty and high school dropout rates. Young people who fail to obtain a high school diploma are far more likely to have difficulty finding employment and are more vulnerable to falling below the poverty level themselves as adults. The economic and familial stability of having a married father in the home helps put children on the path to success and better prepares them to some day support their own families.

Being a father is not always easy, even in the best of circumstances, but when men abandon that high calling, as is increasingly the case in Massachusetts, our entire society suffers. Regrettably, there is no single “magic bullet” to solve the fatherlessness problem. First and foremost, we as a Commonwealth – and a nation – need to recognize the magnitude of the problem. We need to become better advocates across the board for children to have married fathers and mothers in their homes. We need to find creative ways to help keep families intact. Solutions need to come from the local community as well as the State House and everywhere in between, from the private and public sectors, from faith-based and secular organizations, from business and academia. Every child deserves and needs a mom and dad in their life.  Children with no father to celebrate this weekend should break our hearts and compel us to action. 


Andrew Beckwith is President of the Massachusetts Family Institute. Read his past columns here.