If you’re talking about ‘absent black fathers’ and blaming them for things like riots, drugs, crime, and poverty, it’s past time for you to shut up, because the statistics don’t bear out what you’re saying. A US Deapartment of Health and Human Services survey shows that black fathers — including those who don’t live with their children — are active in their children’s lives.
The entire study can be found here as a PDF. The study broke participants into only three groups: Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic black, because other races weren’t well enough represented in the sample group to draw conclusions.
Let’s look at some key points in what they found.
First, the primary question, the key stat that is persistently (and falsely) touted as the only important one: how likely is it that dads of various races don’t live in the same household as their children?
Page 12 of the PDF linked above gives us the answer. What percent of the sample of each of the three named groups has one or more children living apart?
However, living apart isn’t a full measure of parental involvement. A father who is divorced and lives separately from his kids isn’t necessarily uninvolved in the childrens’ lives, and the myth of the absent black father claims that the children in question have no immediate male role models.
What’s the truth?
The study went on to look at how likely fathers, living with or apart from their kids, were to be directly involved in caring for their children, reading to them, helping with homework, and generally being involved in their lives.
It turns out that in most of these areas, when we compare black fathers who live with their children to white and Hispanic fathers who live with their children, the black fathers are at least equally, and in some cases more, involved. The same can be said for fathers living apart from their children. The study found black fathers living apart from their children to be as involved in their kids’ day-to-day lives as white and Hispanic men who live apart from their children.
How often does the average father bathe, diaper, or dress his children? Of those who live with their children, the survey found that 57.6% do so on a daily basis, and 96% do it at least occasionally.
Among black fathers, the distribution ranged more toward daily assistance, with 70% of black fathers helping their child dress, bathe, or use the toilet daily — compared to 60% of white fathers, and 45% of Hispanic fathers.
We’re talking about the so-called ‘absent’ father here though, so let’s look at those.
The study found that, among those living separately, black fathers were slightly more likely than white fathers to help children with these activities several times a week or daily, and slightly less likely to not be involved at all.
On another question, determining how often the ‘absent’ parent played with his children, the study found black fathers to be nearly three times as likely as white fathers, and about 1.5 times as likely as Hispanic fathers, to play with their children daily.
The study further found the ‘absent’ black father to be about twice as likely to read to his children as the ‘absent’ white father, about equally as likely as the ‘absent’ white father to drive his child to school and other activities, and about equally likely to talk to their children about the children’s daily lives.
The only question on which so-called ‘absent’ black fathers performed more poorly than white fathers was frequency of sharing meals with their children.
It should be understood that most of these variances were by small margins — suggesting that in general, black fathers living apart from their children are about equally involved with their children as white or Hispanic fathers, with slightly more involvement in several specific ways, and slightly less in one particular way (sharing meals). The margins increase slightly when the question is narrowed to ‘daily’ rather than ‘daily or several times per week.’
Overall, a very small percentage of the fathers, across races, reported little or no interaction with their children. The study found greater disparities in involvement in certain activities based on age (with older fathers more likely to skip sharing meals with and playing with their children, and younger ones less likely to read to their kids), education (fathers with higher education levels tended to be more involved in bathing, diapering, and clothing, as well as reading to their kids).
What conclusion can we reach? Black fathers are not more likely to be absent from their children’s lives. Among all races, there are a variety of factors that can be shown to have an influence on how frequently fathers (whether or not they share a home with their children) interact with their kids in various ways. The most controllable of these factors is level of education.
So, the absent black father? Does he exist? Well, there are certainly such things as absent fathers, of any race — but this study suggests that the ‘absent black father’ is no more of a cultural standard than the absent white or absent Hispanic father, and presumably no more than the absent father of other races not represented in this study.