The Santa Clara County
Involvement Collaborative

Fatherhood/Male Involvement Facts

What Does Fatherhood/Male Involvement Mean?

Fatherhood/male involvement is often defined as consisting of three primary components:

    Interaction: the father engages
    with the child in play, reading,
    talking, doing homework, and
    other activities.

    Availability: the father is
    accessible and present in the
    child’s life and makes them
    a priority.

    Responsibility: the father
    ensures that the child is
    financially and emotionally
    supported, safe, and happy.

When the father is absent from a child’s life, the subsequent lack of the father’s interaction, availability, and responsibility is a contributing reason for the child being less successful later in life. Active fatherhood/male involvement during the prenatal to five period is critical for the future well-being of a child. Since this is a critical developmental stage and outcomes at age 5 are highly predictive of a child’s subsequent development, it is paramount that systems of care include policies and programs that will promote the healthy development of children during this important period of their lives.

How The Change In Family Structure Impacts Children

Over the last forty years, a significant transformation of the American family structure has occurred. In 1970, about 30 percent of children had non-resident fathers by the time they reached the age of eighteen, whereas by 2000 more than 50 percent of children were expected to have nonresident fathers at some point in their lives. It is estimated today that nearly one-fifth of children in the United States will have never lived with their father. Additionally, one-third of all births in the United States are now to unmarried parents. This change in marital patterns has significant consequences for the number of births, labor market participation, income levels, and the allocation of household resources.

The Santa Clara County Strategic Plan

The Fatherhood and Male Involvement Strategic Plan 2009 is available for download and review.
2009 Strategic Plan 54 Pages (3.1 Mbs) .pdf

Key Findings

  • Research indicates that fathers have an independent effect on child well-being.
  • Although involved fathers are spending more time with their children, fewer men overall are actually involved with their children.
  • Several barriers can cause a father to be uninvolved in their child’s life. These barriers include: level of maturity, incarceration, financial troubles, substance abuse, cultural constraints, or a bad relationship with the child’s mother.
  • In Santa Clara County, 20,027 children under age 6 live in a family household with no father present.

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The Importance of Fathers in the Lives of Children

Since the early 1900’s, there has been an increasing body of evidence about the importance of father involvement, the changing family structure and its subsequent impact on the lives of children. The positive effects of father involvement have been a consistent finding in numerous studies. In June 1998, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released a report that examined the increase in divorce, non-marital childbearing, changing family structures, and important contributions of fathers in the lives of their children. Findings in the report include:

  • Nearly one-third of children are born out of wedlock, and many who are born into married households experience the divorce of their parents.
  • Fathers who are involved are spending more time with their children, but fewer men are actually involved fathers. Fathers who live with their children are spending more time taking care of them, but divorce and non-marital childbearing have reduced the average amount of time fathers spend with their children over the life course. Almost half of the fathers who do not live with their children have no contact with their children at all.
  • The absence of a father in the home has adverse consequences for children’s school achievement and labor force attachment, as well as being an indicator of early childbearing and risky behavior by the children.
  • Family structure makes a difference, even when income is taken into account. Two parents are better than one. However, it should be noted that many children raised by a single parent, could make a successful transition from childhood into adulthood if that parent has adequate economic and social supports.
  • Research that separates father involvement from mother involvement indicates that fathers have an independent effect on child well-being. For example, the father’s parenting style, level of closeness, flexibility, and other family processes affect the child’s well-being.

Barriers to Fatherhood and Male Involvement

Teen Fatherhood

The risks associated with teen motherhood are well established. However, much less attention has been paid to the risks to both the teen father and their children. There is a need to support existing and implement new strategies to further reduce the incidences of teen fatherhood and improve the economic, physical, and mental well-being of both teen fathers and the child. Research shows that fatherhood at a young age can result in negative developmental consequences for both the father and their children. Teens are not as equipped developmentally as adults to assume parental responsibilities and respond to the emotional and basic needs of children.

Earning Power

One of the determining factors that affect a child’s well-being is the father’s ability to provide financial support to the child. A father’s earning power is partly a function of the length of his participation in the labor force, level of educational attainment, and his employment status. One study revealed that non-residential fathers worked approximately 110 fewer hours a year than resident fathers or men who were not fathers. In addition, fathers with lower levels of education had a lower employment rates. These results suggest that residential status and educational attainment are significant factors in determining a father’s earning potential. Additionally, non-resident fathers are more likely to rely upon “irregular” or underground employment to increase their total income, which impacts their ability to increase their future earnings power in the regular sector.

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Substance Abuse

Unmarried fathers were more likely to have abused substances. Research has revealed that a father’s substance abuse is a predictive indicator of divorce, a reason for the mother to end a relationship, and a detriment to the well-being of the child. Substance abuse is also associated with negative indicators for the child including poor parenting, increased social isolation, and spending less time together. Existing research suggests a relationship between paternal substance abuse and adverse effects on biological, developmental, and behavioral outcomes in children.


Children of fathers who have been incarcerated face challenges that result in negative consequences for their future well-being. One of the unintended consequences of incarceration is that a growing number of children will experience life without one or both of their parents. Children of incarcerated parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing psychological problems, poorer academic performance, and habitually abusing substances. Moreover, children with incarcerated parents are five times more likely to enter prison during their youth, with 1 in 10 facing incarceration before the age of eighteen. In 2000, 93 percent of California’s prisoners were men, and 57 percent of these men had at least one minor child, affecting almost 30,000 households. In a survey conducted in 1997, incarcerated fathers had limited to no contact with their children.

A correlate result of incarceration is poorer labor market outcomes for many fathers upon their release from prison. Formerly incarcerated fathers have greater difficulty in gaining employment, finding housing, and accessing social services when compared to fathers that had never been incarcerated.

Cultural Barriers

Cultural environment plays an important role in the formation of parenting beliefs and practices. Among low-income African Americans, some studies have revealed that community pressure exists for the father not to live with the child and to play a limited paternal role. On the other hand, Hispanics reported greater pressure to marry and to provide financial support for the child, but to limit the participation in caring for the child.

Research indicates that low-income and minority fathers have greater rates of non-marital childbearing and partnership dissolution. Children in these families often experience more frequent changes in household composition where alternative father figures play a role in their lives. Santa Clara County’s racial and ethnic composition is projected to change considerably between 2000 and 2050, with the Hispanic population projected to increase 144%–the greatest increase of any ethnic group in the County. With more than 26,000 births annually, the child population is becoming more diverse than the adult population with one-third of the child population classified as White, one-third classified as Hispanic, and one-quarter as Asian American.

The Relationship Between Mother and Father

The relationship between the mother and father is a critical factor in predicting paternal involvement in the life of the child. Non-custodial and non-residential fathers will likely require different interventions than custodial and residential fathers, and thus policies and programs should be designed accordingly to affect the level of involvement. The increased divorce rate has negative consequences for children, as more than a million children in the U.S. experience a divorce every year and almost half of all divorces involve a child under the age of eighteen. It is important to understand the effects of divorce on fathers and why divorce causes many to become less involved in the lives of their children. Research has found that when the romantic relationship between the mother and father ends, divorced fathers are more likely to also sever their relationship with their child. One-third of divorced fathers had no contact with their children. Research has shown that children suffer psychological and emotional distress from divorces, since the non-custodial parent becomes less involved in their lives or the because of increasing parental conflict.

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