Fatherlessness, or the absence of fathers from families, has been linked with multiple social ills such as the increased incidence of child and substance abuse, higher risk of criminality and incarceration for children and even linked to that situation that children are more likely to suffer from obesity.

Fatherlessness is a result of a breakdown of marriages most of which occur through divorce or out-of-wedlock births. As families comprise the basic units of society, the collapse of the family also harms society. Although the breakdown of marriages affect both mothers and fathers, child custody laws tend to place children with their mothers and thus children often live without their fathers at home.

How does fatherlessness affect families and society at large?

Watch this video that explains how tough it is to grow up without an actual father:


The impact of fatherlessness or absent fathers is serious and has been correlated with many different social ills:

  • Delinquency and Criminality: a child without a father is 11 times more likely to display violent behaviour, 10 times more likely to join a gang, 6 times more likely to end up in prison and twice as likely to drop out of school (Source)
  • Mental Health: Children with absent fathers are overrepresented on a wide range of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and suicide. (Source)
  • Relationships: A vicious cycle tends to perpetuate as fatherless children tend to enter marriage/partnerships early, to divorce or dissolve unions and are more likely to have children outside of wedlock. (Source)

Studies have shown that the profiles of school shooters in the US tend towards the fatherlessness of a broken or never formed family. Without the support of their family members, they tend to experience a void in their identity and relationships which demands to be filled in some way. For some, this void is tragically filled by the violence committed against others. 

There is no doubt that the causal factors affecting would-be school shooters are deeply complex and includes issues like substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and violent games. Nevertheless, fatherlessness remains one of the most powerful predictors of crimes because fathers are role models for their children and maintain authority and discipline.

Are we stigmatising families that fall outside the traditional nuclear structure?

Some have argued that the crisis of fatherless is overrated and that the absence of fathers cannot be blamed for all the problems that their children may face. In particular, proponents demand that the changing form of modern families requires support rather than stigmatisation.

With the absence of biological fathers, other males in the family and community may step in as male role models to provide the nurturing and mentorship required. Uncles, older brothers, male teachers, step-fathers may help to raise the children where the father is not present.

While no reasonable author would argue for the cessation of support for single-parent households, is the focus on fatherlessness casting aspersions on single, female-headed households? Your answer to this question depends on your thoughts on the nuclear family. By pointing out that the lack of men in the lives of their children causes various problems for the latter, does this imply any lack of compassion towards families who are in such circumstances? In highlighting the struggles of female-headed households who are raising their children alone as compared to those with two parents, do we put down single-parent households? 

Ultimately, the statistics show that the absence of fathers harms children and that it is correlated to a wide variety of social ills. While we can argue on the norms of the family structure, we must guard against being distracted by the social problem of fatherlessness. Whilst it may be uncomfortable to inadvertently highlight divorce and single mothers, it is crucial to point out that children need their fathers.

What has been done about the situation of fatherlessness?

In Singapore, the Centre for Fathering started the DADs for Life campaign in 2015. This was started by Jason Wong, a prisons officer who has first-hand experience of the unfortunate impact of absent and abusive fathers on families. The movement seeks to empower fathers and to build stronger relationships between fathers and their children.

While divorce used to sideline parents as the custody rights over the children tend to be awarded to the mothers, the custodial norms may change such that fathers become co-parents. Without being drained by marital conflict, they may not be better able to pursue parenting with focus. Instead of delegating most of the nurturing responsibilities to their ex-wives, fathers may petition family courts for more parental duties so that they may have a more proactive role in the development of their children.

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. How can we, individually and as a society, support single-parent household families?
  2. In the Youtube video, Dr Jordan Peterson argues that “marriage is for children” and that once a couple has children, it would be selfish for the couple to focus on themselves. Do you agree with his assertion? Why or why not?

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘incarceration’: confinement in a jail or prison; the state of being imprisoned
  2. ‘delinquency’: conduct that is out of accord with accepted behaviour or the law; typically associated with juveniles (youths)
  3. ‘stigmatising’: to describe or identify with scorn or criticism
  4. inadvertently’: unintentionally

Here are more related articles for further reading:

  1. Fathers Matter – A Lot: Commentary on a YouTube original series with an underlying theme of the absence of paternal figures. 

“There is something deeper running under the hood, however: the absence of paternal figures in the lives of its key characters. This is the reason the show is so compelling. Each of the central characters is searching for what it means to be a man in a world where he lacks the firm guidance of a father.”

“The show revolves around the actions and reactions of various fatherless males, and it showcases the cyclical, generational harm generated by missing dads. It’s an eminently human portrayal of the costs of family breakdown, and the lengths to which young men will go to find their place in the world—a world that will stop at nothing to convince them that their own egoism, status, and pleasure are the only reliable barometers for right action. It’s men like Mr. Miyagi who break the cycle, even if not perfectly. Perhaps Johnny can finally do the same.”


  1. Fox News: How the vast majority of mass shooters come from broken homes. 

The fact is, divorce and family breakdown—which, to answer my emailer’s question, is the root of fatherlessness—is catastrophic for children. There’s more than one reason why, but an obvious one is that in the majority of cases, divorce separates children from their fathers.

This is destructive to both boys and girls, but each sex suffers differently. Girls who grow up deprived of their father are more likely to become depressed, more likely to self-harm, and more likely to be promiscuous. But they still have their mothers, with whom they clearly identify. Boys do not have a comparable identification and thus suffer more from father absence. They also tend to act out in a manner that’s harmful to others, which girls typically do not.

The root of fatherlessness is deep and wide, but it ultimately rests in two things: our culture’s dismissal of men as valuable human beings who have something unique to offer—on the one hand, we tell them to ‘man up,’ and on the other we tell them manhood is the problem—and its dismissal of marriage as an institution that’s crucial to the health and well-being of children. This long-standing belief has been supplanted by the notion that marriage is about the emotional fulfillment of adults.

It is not. Marriage is about the needs of children, pure and simple. That’s how it began, and that’s how it remains. Children’s needs are the same today as they were one hundred years ago. It is we, not they, who have changed.”