The Enigma of Father Presence in Relationship to Sons' Violence and Daughters' Mating Strategies: Empiricism in Search of a Theory

By Mackey, Wade C.; Coney, Nancy S. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

The Enigma of Father Presence in Relationship to Sons' Violence and Daughters' Mating Strategies: Empiricism in Search of a Theory


Mackey, Wade C., Coney, Nancy S., The Journal of Men's Studies


Over the past several decades, interest in American fathers has increased substantially both in the popular press (e.g., Blankenhorn, 1995; Bozett & Hanson, 1991; Buscaglia, 1989; Levine, 1976; Popenoe, 1996; Ritner, 1992; Sears, 1991; Snarey, 1993) and in the professional literature (e.g., Barnett, Marshall & Pleck, 1992; Garbarino, 1993; Geiger, 1996; Hewlett, 1992; Lamb, 1976, 1981, 1997; Mackey, 1996; Marsiglio, 1995; Seltzer, 1991; for histories of fathering in America, see Demos, 1986; Griswold, 1993; LaRossa, 1997). This paper focuses on the potential consequences of father absence upon children in two areas: (1) violent crime--essentially a male or son problem, and (2) mating strategies--essentially a female or daughter-controlled phenomenon. The putative relationship between violent crime and fatherlessness will be examined first.

FATHERLESSNESS AND VIOLENT BEHAVIOR

It is suggested that, if a responsible and continuous adult male role-model (i.e., a father or father-figure) is unavailable to young, developing boys, then those boys will become prone to engage in deviant or anti-social behavior. For some time, numerous studies have noted the tendency for children from fatherless homes to be over-represented in categories of anti-social behavior (Adams, Milner, & Schrepf, 1984; Anderson, 1968; Bereczkei & Csanaky, 1996; Blau & Blau, 1982; Chilton & Markle, 1972; Coney & Mackey, 1998; Monahan, 1972; Mosher, 1969; Robins & Hill, 1966; Stevenson & Black, 1988; for theoretical orientations on the suggested linkage, see Mischel, 1961a, 1961b; Mackey, 1985, 1996; and for reviews of the literature, see Blankenhorn, 1995; Draper & Harpending, 1982; Popenoe, 1996; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985).

However, the loss of a father would also mean the loss of father's income. Therefore, there is always a potential confounding between the child's lack of a father and the child's environment of poverty (Adams et al., 1984; Freeman, 1975; Gillespie, 1975; Smith & Krohn, 1995).

Thus, two hypotheses, inter alia, are generally offered as routes to understand the basis of violent behavior. First, violent behavior is seen as a consequence of fatherlessness and, second, violent behavior is viewed as a consequence of poverty. Again, although these two hypotheses certainly differ in emphasis, they are not mutually exclusive of each other.

Four sets of data will be analyzed to test the two separate, if overlapping, hypotheses. The first set analyzes data from across the U.S. by state (plus D.C.) for the year 1993. The second set analyzes data from across the U.S. by state (plus D.C.) from a constricted time frame: 1987-1993. The third set analyzes aggregate data from the U.S. across a more extended timeframe: 1973-1995. The fourth set correlates data across states from an earlier time frame (1970-1974) with data across states from a more recent time frame (1989-1993). The results from the U.S. will then be compared to data from other countries to determine if the U.S. pattern is more representative of its own unique social structure and history or if it's more representative of a variation upon a cross-cultural theme.

DEFINITIONS AND METHOD:

U.S. PATTERNS

Divorce rates and level of out-of-wedlock births were used to index fatherlessness. Violent crime statistics were used to index violent behavior. Male unemployment statistics were used to index poverty. Data from the Statistical Abstract of the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1972-1997) were compiled for the tested years for divorce rates, levels of out-of-wedlock births, rates of violent crime, and rates of male unemployment. Divorce rates were the number of divorces per 1,000 population. The level of out-of-wedlock births was the percentage of all births that were out-of-wedlock. Rates of violent crime were the number of violent crimes known to police per 100,000 population. …

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