Beyond Breadwinner: How Fathers Make a Difference in Their Children’s Life Prospects

Fathers’ involvement is an important factor in children’s well-being, from health and behavioral outcomes to school performance. Research shows that religious participation appears to bolster fathers’ involvement.

  • Fathers’ religiosity is linked to higher quality of parent-child relationships. A greater degree of religiousness among fathers was associated with better relationships with their children, greater expectations for positive relationships in the future, investment of thought and effort into their relationships with their children, greater sense of obligation to stay in regular contact with their children, and greater likelihood of providing emotional support and unpaid assistance to their children and grandchildren. Fathers’ religiousness was measured on six dimensions, including the importance of faith, guidance provided by faith, religious attendance, religious identity, denominational affiliation, and belief in the importance of religion for their children.1
  • Fathers who regularly attend religious services are more likely to be engaged in one-on-one activities with their children. Frequency of church attendance was a stronger predictor of paternal involvement in one-on-one activities with children than employment or income, and comparable to race, ethnicity, and education. Fathers who were active in conservative or mainline Protestant congregations were significantly more engaged with their children in one-on-one activities and other youth activities than their unaffiliated counterparts.2
  • Civically active fathers are more likely to participate in youth-related activities. Among fathers who lived with their children—whether biological, adopted, or step—those who participated more in civic, work-related, and service groups tended to be more involved in youth-related activities than fathers who were less civically engaged.3
  • Fathers’ engagement in their children’s activities was linked to higher academic performance. Preteens whose fathers spent leisure time away from the home (picnics, movies, sports, etc.) with them, shared meals with them, helped with homework or reading, and engaged in other home activities with them earned better grades in school, on average, than peers whose fathers spent less time with them. Similarly, teens whose fathers engaged in activities in the home and outdoors, spent leisure time, and talked with them earned better grades, on average, than teens whose fathers spent less time with them.4
  • Among adolescent boys, those who receive more parenting from their fathers are less likely to exhibit anti-social and delinquent behaviors. For adolescent boys, a lack of father’s parenting was significantly correlated with adolescent conduct problems, such as anti-social behavior and delinquency. Quality of parenting by fathers was measured by adolescents’ responses to a set of 14 questions such as asked how often their fathers talked with them, supported their mothers’ decisions and enforced discipline.5
  • Among adolescent girls, those who have a strong relationship with their fathers are less likely to report experiencing depression. The higher adolescent girls rated the relationship with their fathers, the less likely they were to experience depression.6
  • Close father-adolescent bonds protect against the negative influence of peer drug use. Although having friends who used drugs was associated with an increased likelihood that adolescents would use marijuana, this association was weakened if the youths felt close to their fathers or if they felt that their parents would catch them using marijuana.7
  • Adolescent girls who have a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity. Among a sample of adolescent virgins from intact two-parent families, females who reported having a close relationship with their father during the initial interview were less likely to report having engaged in sexual intercourse during a follow-up interview one year later, when compared to similar females who did not report having a close relationship with their father.8
  • Adolescent girls whose fathers were present during their childhood are less likely to become pregnant. Even when controlling for differences in family background, father absence was associated with the likelihood that adolescent girls will be sexually active and become pregnant as teenagers. This association was strongest for daughters whose fathers were absent when they were younger. Compared with the pregnancy rates of girls whose fathers were present, rates of teenage pregnancy were seven to eight times higher among girls whose fathers were absent early in their childhoods and two to three times higher among those who suffered father-absence later in their childhood.9
  • Adolescent males who report a close relationship with their fathers are more likely to anticipate having a stable marriage in the future. Compared with peers who did not feel close to their biological fathers, adolescent males who did feel close to their fathers were less likely to expect that they would themselves divorce in the future, whether or not they lived with their fathers.10


  1. Valarie King, “The Influence of Religion on Fathers’ Relationships with Their Children,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 2 (May 2003): 382-395.
  2. W. Bradford Wilcox, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 115.
  3. W. Bradford Wilcox, “Religion, Convention, and Paternal Involvement,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64, No. 3 (August 2002): 780-792.
  4. Elizabeth C. Cooksey and Michelle M. Fondell, “Spending Time with His Kids: Effects of Family Structure on Fathers’ and Children’s Lives,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58 (August 1996): 693- 707.
  5. Ronald L. Simons et al., “Explaining the Higher Incidence of Adjustment Problems Among Children of Divorce Compared with Those in Two-Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (November 1999): 1020-1033.
  6. Tami M. Videon, “The Effects of Parent-Adolescent Relationships and Parental Separation on Adolescent Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64, No. 2 (May 2002): 489-503.
  7. Cassandra J. Dorius et al., “Parenting Practices as Moderators of the Relationship Between Peers and Adolescent Marijuana Use,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66, No. 1 (February 2004): 163-178.
  8. Mark D. Regnerus and Laura B. Luchies, “The Parent-Child Relationship and Opportunities for Adolescents’ First Sex,” Journal of Family Issues 27, No. 2 (2006): 159-183.
  9. Bruce J. Ellis et al., “Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?” Child Development 74, No. 3 (2003): 801-821.
  10. Sharon Risch, Kathleen M. Jodl, and Jaquelynne S. Eccles, “Role of the Father-Adolescent Relationship in Shaping Adolescents’ Attitudes Toward Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66, No. 1 (February 2004): 46-58.