Finding Black Fathers in Families

25 March 2005

As yet, there’s not been much research into the day to day experiences of Black British dads. US researchers, however, have been investigating Black fathers’ experience for more than 15 years, revealing interesting patterns – many of which are likely to be found in the UK, too.

Where dad lives at home:

  • African-American fathers in two-parent families spend more time with their children than Hispanic or white fathers1. This may in part be due to generations of ‘working mums’. This pattern is also likely to hold in the UK, where Black mothers have usually been employed – often in the ‘informal’ economy.
  • African American fathers and Black fathers in the Caribbean are more likely than white fathers to treat boys and girls similarly when they are babies2. They also (unusually for fathers) interact just as much with their young daughters as they do with their young sons. Again, this may be due to generations of working mothers2.
  • In the US (as in the UK) Black families have higher divorce/separation/never living together rates than white families. However, a top predictor that a Black couple will stay together is the Black man’s enjoyment of, and interest in, being a father and sharing in the day-to-day care of his children3.

Where dad lives out-of-home:

  • Rates of involvement with very young children are extraordinarily high among non-resident African American fathers: father involvement drops off dramatically as children age and as the time since the father has lived with his child increases4.
  • Most non-resident Black fathers speak poignantly of the meaning of their children in their lives – even if they rarely see them. Black fathers sometimes say that when they cannot contribute financially, they feel too guilty to have ongoing contact with their children4.
  • Many times, the onset of pregnancy and the resulting birth provide Black fathers who have been ‘rippin’ and runnin’ the streets’ with a strong motive to leave their fast and dangerous street lives. Because of this, Black fathers often claim that their children have literally ‘saved’ them4.
  • Low income Black fathers are more likely than higher income fathers (Black and white) to place ‘equal value’ on the breadwinning and on the ‘relational’ functions of fatherhood4.
  • Both structural and behavioural factors, such as unemployment, drug use, criminal activity and conflicts with their babymother hinder Black fathers from fulfilling, at various points in their lives, the duties they ascribe to the ‘good father’4.


1) Pleck JH (1997 ‘Paternal involvement: levels, sources and consequences in Michael E Lamb (ed) The Role of the Father in Child Development (3rd edition). NY: Wiley

(2) Hossain Z & Roopnarine (1993) ‘Division of household labour and child care in dual-earner African-American Families with Infants’, Sex Roles 29:571-583

(3) Veroff J, Douvan E, Orbuch TL & Acitelli LK (1998) ‘Happiness in stable marriages: the early years’ in Thomas N Bradbury (ed) The Developmental Course of Marital Dysfunction. Cambridge: CUP

(4) Nelson TJ, Clampet-Lundquist S & Edin K (2002) ‘Sustaining fragile fatherhood’: father involvement among low-income, noncustodial African American fathers in Philadelphia’ in Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda & Natasha Cabrera (eds) A Handbook of Father Involvement. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

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