With single-parent households becoming increasingly commonplace, American society has become more familiar with the idea of single mothers working full-time and raising children alone. However, it’s also becoming more common for women to view this option as more appealing than marriage, as movies like The Back-up Plan and The Switch illustrate, in which Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston respectively opt for artificial insemination instead of waiting to raise a child with a committed partner. In Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men, Dr. Peggy Drexler and Linden Gross argue that single-mom or two-mom households are even better environments in which to raise boys than homes with an engaged father.
The role of the father in American society is clearly not what it once was. However, as Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox argued recently at the Heritage Foundation, connected, married fathers are more beneficial to households than the media would have us believe. Indeed, there is an abundance of scientific evidence that both children and their fathers benefit from a dad’s committed presence.
“This message that fathers and marriage are not important has not been lost on today’s young adults,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox presented the case, based on his book Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives co-authored with Kathleen Kovner Kline, that on average, men are transformed for the better by fatherhood, children are more likely to benefit, and marriage as an institution connects fathers to their children.
Based on the research presented in his book, Wilcox first argued that fatherhood benefits men both physically and emotionally. Men in new, committed relationships, or newly fathered, experience a drop in testosterone levels, which reduces their tendency toward aggression or heightened libido. Men who are married fathers are also likely to have higher salaries. Men in their mid-20s and 30s who are living with their children are less likely to be depressed than men in the same age group who are not living with their children or have no children.
Children also benefit significantly from having an engaged father in the house. According to Wilcox, in three-quarters of married families, men are still the breadwinners and provide for their families. Men engage in a different, rougher type of play with children than women that teaches children to learn to stand up for themselves. Fathers generally have firmer discipline tactics than mothers, and are more likely to encourage their children to embrace challenges. Boys with engaged fathers are less likely to be violent or delinquent, while girls are less likely to become sexually active or pregnant while teenagers.
In addition, marriage remains important. “Married fathers are more likely to maintain that day-in, day-out relationship with their children,” Wilcox said.
At the end of his lecture, Wilcox emphasized this point, with which I agree wholeheartedly: “Conservatives often make the argument that it’s about the family structure. It’s also about the quality of the structure.”
When advocating for traditional family life, conservatives need to remember that a two-parent household is not all that’s needed. As Wilcox demonstrates, children need a two-parent household in which both mother and father are engaged with and committed to their children and to each other.