Young dads: a response to David Davies MP

14 November 2013

Jeremy Davies writes:

Further to David Davies MP’s comments about ‘feckless fathers’  and subsequent media coverage (for example this Guardian article by Ally Fogg), here is an extract from the Fatherhood Institute’s Research Summary on Young Fathers, which we hope will help inform the debate:

Contrary to common belief, many young fathers have real strengths; and the stereotype of the young buck who impregnates the neighbourhood is largely an urban myth: the single most powerful predictor of adolescent fatherhood is being involved in a long-term relationship with the baby’s mother (Hanson et al, 1989).

The few young men who do have children with more than one partner tend to be not among the most powerful in their communities but among the most disadvantaged, including suffering from high levels of depression (Bronte-Tinkew et al, 2009).

Young men who experience early fatherhood are often distinguished by the fact that they can attract and keep a girl and may sometimes be of high status within their communities. While their backgrounds are generally disadvantaged and they do badly in comparison with same-aged young men in the wider population, comparison with boys from the same social and economic circumstances yields a far less gloomy picture (Rouch, 2005).

Most researchers, even those studying the most disadvantaged samples of young fathers, find:

  • young fathers who are not engaged with their children mainly anguished by that fact (e.g. Osborn, 2008)
  • only a small percentage showing no joy about becoming fathers and having no intention of supporting their partner and children (Kiselica, 2008, p.53)
  • the vast majority keen to be, and stay, connected to their children (e.g Rouch, 2005; Quinton et al, 2002; Bunting & McAuley 2004a)
  • most delighted by parenthood where involvement with their children is ongoing (McDonnell et al, 2009)
  • many claiming that early fatherhood has given their lives meaning, as well as protecting them from involvement in a range of negative activities (e.g. Rouch, 2005).
  • where young fathers express dis-interest, this is mainly associated with financial insecurity or confusion about how to take care of babies and young children (Rhein et al, 1997).

Florsheim & Ngu (2003) observed fatherhood to be a ‘wake up call’ for some hugely disadvantaged young men, who gradually pulled their lives together afterwards. Interestingly, a positive attitude during the pregnancy was no predictor of this, and some of the young men spent time in prison after their babies were born. The ‘wake up call’ often kicked in a little later.

Despite the fact that young fathers rarely receive support from professionals or wider society, early fatherhood can trigger growing maturity and promote personal growth and social responsibility (Kiselika, 2008). Young fathers:

  • show greater involvement than their non-father peers in socially productive activities, such as serving as volunteers in their communities (Kowaleski-Jones & Mott, 1998)

  • ultimately prove as able to support their children as their peers who did not become early fathers, with one study finding them twice as likely to make payments for their children (Berrington et al, 2007)

  • by their early twenties are less likely than their non-father peers to be engaging in delinquent behaviour, although at the point when they had become fathers their average delinquency-rates had been higher (Thornberry et al, 2004).

  • are no less likely to maintain contact with their children than older fathers, once unemployment and lower earnings/education ; are controlled for in a simultaneous model (Berrington et al, 2007).

For references, and further information about what the evidence says about young fathers, read our Research Summary.

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