With celebrations of Father’s Day having recently passed I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the current state of fatherhood in South Africa. The Institute of Race Relations releases annual surveys with statistics on a whole range of themes. They have statistics on the demography of South Africa.  I had a look at the number of children living with and without fathers; children with mothers only; children living with fathers alone. They make comparisons between the different racial groups as well and the vast differences are immediately visible.

african children_without fathers
Figure 1:African children with and without fathers

This figure details the change in children living with and without fathers within the black community. One thing that immediately jumps out is that 50% of black children are growing up in households without fathers. 30% of black children live in households with their fathers present and roughly 18% of children are in households without fathers because they passed away. 50% of children with absent fathers seems to be shockingly high and I wonder what sort of social impact this lack of fathers has within the black community. If you add the 18% that don’t have fathers due to death you end up  with roughly 68% of black children in households without fathers.

children with_out fathers_2012

Figure 2 gives a wonderful comparison between the different racial groups in South Africa. And immediately you can observe there is such a vast difference between the racial groups that it is somewhat shocking. Whites and indians have a high number of households where fathers are present – 81%. Contrast that with 32% of black children with fathers present and 58% of coloured children. That is a big difference and I am currently baffled on the causes for this absence of fathers in  the black community. Another surprising statistics the high number of fathers absent due to death: 16% for black children, and at the low end is 2% of white children in households without fathers due to death.

What is causing the high number of absent fathers due to death? Is it socioeconomic conditions? Are black fathers more likely to be found in dangerous areas with high murder rates? Is it health problems that are particularly an issue for black fathers?

children with_out parents by race 2012
Figure 3: Children with and without parents by race

Figure 3 includes statistics on the children in households with single mothers. This figure reveals a similar pattern to the other graphs. Black children grow up in the highest number of households with single mothers, 42%. Followed by coloureds with 32.5% and on the low end indians with 12%. Also notice how high the number of black children without parents is, 26%, compared to other racial groups.

It would be interesting to dig into the causal factors behind these stats. Clearly the state of fatherhood amongst the black community is not a good story to tell. The lack of fathers can only have a negative effect on black children.

I came across a review paper titled Marriage, Parenthood, and Public Policy, that looked at family changes in America and detailed some of the negative effects that a decline in marriage rates, the rise of single parenthood and the lack of a father can have on children. Although it particularly looks at American families, the effects can be applied generally to households with single parents. It lists the following effects on children that single parenthood is more likely to have:

  1. Children are more likely to end up in poverty.

    “Poverty is perhaps the most harmful of these consequences. According to the Census Bureau, in 2012 the poverty rate among children living with only their mother was 47.2%; by contrast, the poverty rate among children living with their mar­ried parents was 11.1%, meaning that a child living with a single mother was almost five times as likely to be poor as a child living with married parents.”

2. The development of children is negatively affected.

“…children raised apart from one of their parents are less successful in adulthood than children raised by both parents, and…many of their problems result from a loss of income, parental involvement and supervision, and ties to the community… A partial list of these effects includes an increased likelihood of delinquency; acting out in school or dropping out entirely; teen pregnancy; mental-health problems, including suicide; and idleness (no work and no school) as a young adult. Married parents — in part simply because there are two of them — have an easier time being better parents.”

  1. Performance in school is affected

“Children raised by single parents tend to perform more poorly in school, and this fact appears to be one reason why America’s children are falling seriously behind students from other countries in educational achievement”.

One paper reviewed, The Causal Effects of Father Absence, 47 research papers on the causal effects of father absence in children and they concluded:

The body of knowledge about the causal effects of father absence on child well-being has grown during the early twenty-first century as researchers have increasingly adopted innovative methodological approaches to isolate causal effects. We reviewed 47 such articles and find that, on the whole, articles that take one of the more rigorous approaches to handling the problems of omitted variable bias and reverse causality continue to document negative effects of father absence on child well-being, though these effects are stronger during certain stages of the life course and for certain outcomes. We find strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing externalizing behavior.

There are plenty of negative effects that children without fathers are more likely to experience. How can this trend be reversed particularly in the black community? Why are marriage rates low in black communities? Is it because of low income, lack of jobs, a decline in a desire for commitment, poor relationship skills, and divorce? An increase in cohabitation? Whatever the cause its effects will be felt and experienced by children, and our future generations will be disadvantaged for it.

So as you look back on Father’s Day, let us really take the time to be thankful and appreciate the fathers that are present and are committed to actively raising their children. Let us encourage men to accept that they have a significant role and duty to play in the well-being of their children. Let us honour, celebrate and encourage marriage as an institution able to provide amongst many things a stable background for the well-being of children.

For further reading:

The Obligations of Family Life: A Response to Modern Liberalism

Effects of Fatherless Families on Crime Rates

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