April 30, 2001
involvement in the baby's life
A story released today by United Press International reports that Columbia University
professor Ron Mincy addressed the effects of "fatherlessness" at a forum titled
"Connecting Fathers and Families" at the Thurgood Marshall Center Monday.
The program at the former YMCA building was organized by the centrist Democratic
Leadership Council and underwritten by the Freddie Mack Foundation.
Mincy summarized new data about the paternal influence on the mother's prenatal care, a
father's involvement with his baby one year after its birth and in the child's education.
Mincy stated that fathers, particularly married fathers, play an important role in
reducing smoking and drinking among expectant mothers. But this influence decreases
"as the relationship becomes more tenuous."
The key variable affecting whether a father is actively involved in his child's life a
year after the baby's birth is whether the other wanted to marry the father at the time of
birth, Mincy said.
If the mother wanted to marry the father, the man's involvement increased dramatically. Of
the men the mothers wanted no involvement with, only 30 percent remained highly involved
with their children one year after the baby's birth.
Economic factors also play a role in relationships.
Among blacks, a man's economic situation determines whether a woman wants to marry the
father of her child, Mincy said. Employed men have a 300 percent advantage over their
But even if a man has a job, black mothers are still 15 percent less willing than women in
other populations to marry the father of their child.
Black married fathers behave as well as any others, Mincy said, but only about 11 percent
of black fathers are married to their children's mother one year after the child's birth.
With 70 percent of African-American babies now born out of wedlock, Mincy said, the
likelihood is low that their fathers will be involved in their education.
The good news is that students do better -- and are better behaved -- if even
non-custodial fathers maintain involvement in their schoolwork. "It's not just
contact," Mincy said, "it's what fathers actually do."
The United States has undergone a longstanding retreat from marriage, the professor said.
The policy problem is figuring out how to increase marriage and marriage prospects. So far
"nothing trumps the economic status" of the man, he said.
Theodora Ooms, senior policy analyst at the Center for Law & Social Policy, agreed
that the retreat from marriage is a national problem.
Thirty percent of U.S. babies are born to unwed mothers, she said.
Ooms said a good marriage is the surest path to responsible fatherhood, and policymakers
should "stop tiptoeing around the 'm' word." Ooms outlined what she thinks are
six causes of the retreat from marriage.
(1) Women's entry into the labor force. (This is not so relevant for blacks, she
said, because black women have always worked.)
(2) The disruptive effect of the old welfare system, which paid benefits only to
households without men.
(3) The sexual revolution and the decline of "shotgun marriages."
(4) Among blacks, the literal shortage of men with so many dead or imprisoned.
(5) Relationships between men and women now are freighted with unrealistic
expectations, especially that the partner is supposed to make you happy.
(6) Increasingly, fewer and fewer people have witnessed the ups and downs of intact
marriages in which the partners work things out.
Nevertheless, Ooms said, marriage is still held in very high esteem, even where marriage
rates are low.
It's not easy to reverse trends, the policy analyst said, and no one program will work to
promote healthy marriages. However, it is important to target couples right before the
time of birth.
Moderating the event was the DLC chairman, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who has been a
proponent of responsible fatherhood since his days as Indiana governor. In his opening
remarks, the senator said that men have been irresponsible and women have been heroic.
Bayh's Congress member, Rep. Julia Carson, D-Ind., however, took another approach.
Many "deadbeat" fathers are actually "dead broke," she said. Carson
said she knows it's not all men's fault. Some mothers accept child support but refuse
fathers to form relationships with their children, she said, and some women drive a wedge
between children and their fathers.