Fatherless Sons: The Psychological, Behavioral and Social Toll

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

While fatherhood has not fared well in a popular culture that celebrates freedom from both authority and obligation, more and more evidence shows that growing up without a father is even worse for children than folk wisdom suggests — and that it may be a root cause of a surprising array of social ills, from crime to academic failure to the decline of compassion. — David Popenoe

The absence of a father in a child’s life can significantly impact their psychological well-being, particularly in the case of sons. Fatherlessness can manifest in different ways, including emotional, physical, and financial absence. Children without fathers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and behavioral problems.

Psychological Impact of Fatherlessness

The impact of fatherlessness on sons can be profound, and its effects can be felt across different aspects of their lives. The lack of a positive father figure can make it challenging for sons to develop a strong sense of self-worth and positive self-concepts, which can lead to low self-esteem and other psychological issues.

Research has consistently indicated that fatherlessness has a detrimental impact on children’s mental health. For example, studies found that fatherless boys are three times more likely to experience depression than those with fathers present (Markowitz & Ryan, 2016). Additional research has revealed that boys without fathers are more likely to display externalizing behaviors such as aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity (Blankenhorn, 1996; O’Neill, 2002; Popenoe, 1996).

One of the most significant psychological impacts of fatherlessness on sons is the development of low self-esteem. Fatherless boys often struggle with a sense of worthlessness and have difficulty forming positive self-concepts (Fields, 2014; Popenoe, 1996). Additionally, the absence of a father can lead to difficulties in social relationships, especially for boys who struggle to establish trust and intimacy with others. As a result, fatherless sons may struggle to form healthy relationships with peers, family members, and romantic partners, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation (Blankenhorn, 1996).

Behavioral Impact of Fatherlessness

Fatherlessness can also affect a son’s academic performance. Research has shown that children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school and perform poorly academically (Ahmad, 2014; Barajas, 2011; Scott, 2017). This is due in part to the lack of motivation and support provided by a father figure, which is essential in keeping children on track and focused on their academic goals. A father’s absence can also lead to a lack of discipline and structure at home, making it challenging for sons to develop the necessary study habits and time management skills needed to succeed academically.

Furthermore, fatherlessness can lead to an increased risk of substance abuse and criminal behavior. Without the guidance and support of a father figure, sons may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drug use or alcohol consumption, which can lead to addiction and other negative outcomes. Moreover, the absence of a father can contribute to feelings of anger, frustration, and disillusionment, which can lead to delinquency and criminal behavior (Markowitz & Ryan, 2016; Scott, 2017).

Factors Mitigating or Exacerbating the Effects of Fatherlessness

While fatherlessness can have a profound impact on sons, it is essential to note that other factors can mitigate or exacerbate these effects. For example, having a positive relationship with a mother figure or other supportive adult can help buffer the negative effects of fatherlessness (McLanahan & Sandefur, 2009). Additionally, access to resources such as mental health services and education can provide fatherless sons with the support and tools needed to overcome the challenges they face.

On the other hand, there are factors that can exacerbate the effects of fatherlessness. For example, if a father was present but emotionally or physically absent, the impact on the son may be more profound. Similarly, if the father was abusive or neglectful, the impact may be more significant than if the father was merely absent (Amato & Rivera, 1999; Scott, 2017).

It is essential for mental health professionals to understand the impact of fatherlessness on sons and provide appropriate support to help them overcome the challenges they face. This can include individual and family therapy, support groups, and other interventions aimed at addressing the unique needs of fatherless sons.

The impact of fatherlessness on sons is a complex issue that can have significant psychological, social, and academic consequences. While the absence of a father can be challenging, supportive adults and resources can help mitigate its effects and help fatherless sons develop into healthy and well-adjusted adults. By understanding the impact of fatherlessness and providing appropriate support, mental health professionals and other caring adults can make a significant difference in the lives of fatherless sons and their families. Ultimately, the goal is to help fatherless sons develop into healthy and well-adjusted adults, capable of leading successful and fulfilling lives.

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Ahmad, M. S. Q. A. (2014). Effects of father absence on children’s academic performance. Journal of Educational, Health and Community Psychology, 3(1), 1–6.

Amato, P. R., & Rivera, F. (1999). Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2), 375–384. https://doi.org/10.2307/353755

Barajas, M. S. (2011). Academic achievement of children in single parent homes: A critical review. The Hilltop Review, 5(1), 4.

Blankenhorn, D. (1996). Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem. Harper Perennial.

Eccles, J. S., & Harold, R. D. (1993). Parent-school involvement during the early adolescent years. Teachers college record, 94(3), 568–587.

Fields, S. B. (2014). Fatherless families: An association test and pilot study examining self-esteem, academic achievement, and community setting of adolescent African American males (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).

Markowitz, A. J., & Ryan, R. M. (2016). Father Absence and Adolescent Depression and Delinquency: A Comparison of Siblings Approach. Journal of marriage and the family, 78(5), 1300–1314. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12343

O’Neill, R. (2002). The fatherless family. CIVITAS–The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London.

Popenoe, D. (1996). Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society. Simon and Schuster.

Scott, J. N. (2017). Impact of Fatherlessness on Academic Achievement, Delinquent Behavior, Sexual Behavior and Attachment Style (Doctoral dissertation, Tennessee State University).

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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