Single, custodial fathers are men who have accepted the primary responsibility of
rearing their children (having sole custody a minimum of 5 days a week, on
average). While much public and research attention has been paid to single,
custodial mothers over the years, relatively little attention, of any kind, has
focused on single, custodial fathers. In order to gain a more informed
understanding about the diversity of the American family, the following overview
of single, custodial fathers is presented.
In 1995, the number of family groupings with children under the age of 18 was
slightly more than 35 million households, a 25% increase from 1970. In 1995,
single parent households made up almost 31% (11 million)of the total family
groupings with children under the age of 18. Of those 11 million single parent
households, 15% (1.7 million) represent single, custodial father households, a
330% increase from 1970. In 1995, 2.5 million children lived with only their
father. This large increase seems to be the result of a combination of several
factors. First, the introduction of no-fault divorce laws, gender-neutral
criteria, and greater attention being paid to children's wishes in the court
systems make it easier for fathers to gain custody when they seek it. This,
coupled with the explosive divorce rate, accounts for some of the rise in single,
custodial father households. Second, is the behaviors of mothers. Many women
choose to pursue career or personal goals over family interests and favor father
custody. Additionally, some mothers with psychiatric, or physical conditions are
not able to care for their children. Third, the increase in joint custody
arrangements may also contribute to the increase in single, custodial father
households. Also, mothers remarry and relinquish custody, or one parent moves and
the child moves too, creating a de facto single custody arrangement. Finally,
fathers today are more willing than fathers in the past to become full-time
caretakers of their children. The vast majority of fathers who have custody
gained it by mutual agreement, rather than by a court battle.
Single father families are diverse. Some are formed by the death of a wife or
partner, others by divorce, or by a never-married father assuming custody of his
Single father households may be comprised of a father and his children only, a
father his children and a cohabiting partner, or a father, his children and
extended family. The most common household pattern is a father and his own
children. Roughly, 55% of the children in father-only families live in this type
of arrangement (25% are only-children, the remaining 30% have one or more
siblings). Another 36% of children living with their single father also live with
their father's cohabiting partner. Thirty-four percent live in a
multigenerational household. Since 1960, the proportion of never-married
father-only families has increased from virtually none, to more than 28% of all
families in 1990. In contrast, the proportion of widowed fathers has declined
from 32% in 1960 to less than 6% of all families in 1990.
Single father families are distinct from both married families and single mother
families. Single father families are less likely to be poor and these fathers are
more likely to be in the paid labor force than female-headed families and
single-mothers. However, single father families tend to be poorer and have lower
labor force participation than married fathers. Single fathers tend to be younger
(under 30) than married fathers, but not as young as single mothers. Single
fathers have fewer children than married fathers, but more than single mothers.
Single fathers are more likely than married fathers to live in households with
relatives or other unrelated adults, but significantly less often than single
mothers do. Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Native American children are
more likely than Euro-American children to reside in single father families. And
single father families today are more likely to have young children present, yet
very few receive child support payments from the mother.
Issues of Concern for Single, Custodial Fathers
The largest concern expressed by single fathers is over childcare, as it is with
most working parents. Childcare concerns are most stressful for single fathers
with children between the ages of 5 and 11. Men feel that they are judged, as
well as judge themselves, by their success at work and often have strong internal
conflicts over managing work and caring for their children. Work-related issued
connected to childcare that cause the most stress are arriving late or leaving
early, missing work, having to reduce work and work-related travel. Single
fathers also struggle with establishing and being comfortable with an appropriate
level of intimacy, especially with their adolescent daughters. Finding and
maintaining a support network is also challenging for many single fathers.
Here are a few internet web site you may find useful: National Center for Fathering http://www.fathers.com
Parents Place.com Fathering Reading Room http://www.parentsplace.com/readroom/
Fathering Magazine http://www.fathermag.com
Single & Custodial Father's Network http://single-fathers.org/
The Single Fathers Lighthouse http://www.av.qnet.com/~rlewis3/index.html
Eggebeen, D, Snyder, A, & Manning, W. (1996). Children in single father families in demographic perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 17(4), 441-465.
Greif, G. (1995). Single fathers with custody following separation and divorce. Marriage & Family Review, 20, 213-231.
Parke, R., (1996). Fatherhood. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Extension Agent, Family & Consumer Sciences, Madison County
Submitted by: Kirk Bloir *
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