No Dad, No Baby:  Abortion in the Age of Fatherlessness

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For several years now, I’ve spent early June researching, thinking, and writing about the effect of fatherlessness in Massachusetts. Father’s Day is typically the one time of year when the national conversation turns its attention for a brief moment to dads, so I seize that opportunity to call out the extraordinary importance of fathers in the lives of children.

Last year, I wrote about income inequality and its link to fatherlessness. Specifically:  Children who grow up with a married mother and father in Massachusetts have an average of four times the annual household income of their neighbors who grow up without a father. In 2015, that meant a difference of $121,532 to $29,957, respectively. As dramatic of a disparity as that is, however, the latest data shows that this income inequality has only accelerated. In recent years, households with married fathers increased their income on average by 4.5 percent, with the median figure up nearly $6,000, to $127,000. This outpaced inflation over the same time period (3.4%) and represents a real increase in wealth. Meanwhile, children in homes with no father saw their mother’s income increase on average by less than 1 percent, which means they were actually getting poorer after factoring in the cost of inflation. Even in today’s economic upswing, kids without dads are getting left further and further behind.

I’ve also written in the past about many of the other markers of child welfare (academic achievement, access to health care, involvement in the criminal justice system) that are profoundly affected by the absence of a father from the child’s home.

This year, however, I looked at what is perhaps the most contentious issue currently on the national stage – abortion — and its close correlation with the crisis of fatherlessness. In Massachusetts, one child is aborted for every four that are born. For children whose mothers are not married, the percentage of abortions spikes markedly. Intuition and common sense may tell us this is not news, but when put in concrete terms, the numbers are jarring. For every two children born into fatherless homes, one is aborted. In fact, 80% of abortions in Massachusetts are of children whose father is not married to their mother.

In communities where the crisis of fatherlessness is at its highest, the correlation to abortion creates sweeping consequences. In Springfield, for example, 70% of newborns come home from the hospital to a house without a father. The number of abortions in the city is similarly sky high. For every five live births in Springfield, two children are aborted. In 2017, that number of abortions was 2,143, and nearly 90% of the women who had those abortions were not married. These startling statistics reinforce the logical connection between marriage and fertility. And this is something that every current or potential husband and father should pay attention to, even if they’ve snoozed through all the numbers so far. Why? Because our nation is not having enough babies to survive. It takes 2.1 children per woman per lifetime, on average, to sustain a population. Women in the United States, however, are having on average fewer than 1.8. This means our population will begin to decline over time. If that doesn’t seem like a problem to you, think again:  Economists predict that a declining population will slow economic growth, reducing opportunity for everyone.

In Massachusetts, even with all our wealth and education, this crisis is far worse. In fact, our fertility rate is the lowest rate in the nation, at an average of 1.5 children per woman per lifetime. That’s lower than even the People’s Republic of China, which is only three years removed from its draconian “one child policy.” While the eastern part of Massachusetts is experiencing strong population growth, back in Springfield, population change has nearly ground to a halt, and the parts of the state to its west are already shrinking.

It is not an exaggeration, therefore, to claim that marriage, which unites fathers to mothers and children, is a core building block of society. Not only do children who grow up with a father fare far better, on average, than those who do not, they have substantially better odds of being born in the first place. Our country, and particularly our Commonwealth, are in dire need of the “baby bump” that fathers engender by their committed presence.

That’s something to think about as we grill our burgers and dogs this Father’s Day weekend:  you don’t have to be a perfect dad to make a hugely positive difference in the lives of your children (and society), but you have to be there.


Andrew Beckwith is the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which advocates for policies that promote families and Judeo-Christian moral principles on Beacon Hill. To find out more about the crisis of fatherlessness in Massachusetts, click here.