Demography and life course risks of women and men who do not know their fathers

Ulrich O. Mueller, University of Marburg
Katharina Paulus, University of Marburg

Father’s absence can take on many forms. Fathers may be physically present, but emotionally absent with only very little involvement in a child’s life. Today’s laws on child custody and visitation make possible a wide variety of relations between non-cohabiting fathers and their children - from a father, who has been, willingly or unwillingly, almost deleted from the life of the child to a caring father who, despite living elsewhere, nevertheless continues to be present and very much involved in the life of the child. Standardized surveys provide unambiguous documentation only about the most extreme form of paternal absenteeism, namely “father unknown” or “never knew father”, a rather rare phenomenon, perhaps at most 1 to 2% of adults in developed societies. Of many established databases of this kind, seemingly only the German General Social Survey ALLBUS and the US National Longitudinal Study of Youth NLSY79 provide such information, while the US National Longitudinal Study of Youth NLSY97 comes close to it by documenting whether respondents in the first wave of the panel survey ever had had contact to their biological father. The NLSY79 even measured “mother unknown” which is even rarer, perhaps 0.2%. Analyses show that such respondents do not differ in age, income, education or occupation from others, but are twice as likely to be single, less healthy and to have smaller families, if any. They are also more likely to prefer to be single ("Happier on one's own than with a family"), they judge their health less favorably, they may even have higher mortality. Men are not more often, but are more severely affected by fathers’ absence than are women.

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Presented in Poster Session 1

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