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Effect of Father Absence and Father Alternatives on Female and Male Rates of Violence

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2003
189 pages
This study examined the effect of father absence on community-level rates of female and male violence.
Criminologists and policymakers alike have decried the disappearance of family-oriented males from communities as a contributing factor to rising levels of violence. Despite this focus on father absence as the cause of increasing community violence, it is unclear why father absence is problematic. It is also unclear whether alternatives to resident fathers and husbands can mitigate the deleterious outcomes associated with father absence. The current study draws on country-level adult violent crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting program and the Census Bureau to examine these issues from an ecological perspective, as well as to examine whether the impact of father absence is uniform across gender. Violent crimes included in the analysis include homicide, robbery, and felony assault. Dependent variables include male and female violent crime rates. Key independent variables include father absence, which is defined as percent of families headed by females, community caregivers, structural disadvantage, and supervisory structure. Results of “seemingly unrelated regression” analyses and F-tests revealed that father absence had a strong and significant effect on variations in female and male violence rates by ecological context. Moreover, the effect of father absence on male and female rates of violence was similar. Father absence remained a robust predictor of community levels of violence after controlling for other related factors, such as structural disadvantage and community social control mechanisms. Some of the violence predicted by father absence was mitigated by the presence of male capital and collective caregiving within communities. In areas with high father absence, the increased presence of alternative caregivers was significantly associated with reduced rates of violence across gender and types of violence. Implications of these findings suggest that solutions to the violence expressed by females and males can be found in community-level interventions. Mentoring programs, such as Big Brother/Big Sister programs, may help reduce violence in areas marked by father absence. Future research should explore the links between micro- and macro-factors associated with the family-structure/violence relationship demonstrated here. Figures, tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2003