A new study finds that, compared to those whose fathers are not involved in their lives, teens who say they have involved fathers are 98% more likely to graduate from college, and teens with very involved fathers are 105% more likely to graduate.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), investigated the association between paternal involvement and college graduation by using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which examined a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7-12 in the 1994-1995 school year. Results of the Add Health study demonstrate that young adults who reported they had involved fathers while in high school are significantly more likely to graduate from college.
Wilcox notes that researchers have long observed that fathers play an essential role in advancing the well-being of their children. In addition, a U.S. Department of Education study found that among children living with both biological parents, those with very involved fathers were 42 percent more likely to obtain As and 33 percent less likely to be held back one year in school than children whose fathers had low levels of involvement in their lives.
Wilcox’s investigation also demonstrates that adolescents are much more likely to report an involved or highly involved father if their biological parents are married, and that this association between paternal involvement and family structure holds true for families of all education levels.
“In other words, an engaged approach to fatherhood is more common for adolescents living in an intact, married family, regardless of parental education attainment,” Wilcox writes, but notes that the most involved fathers are generally found in homes where the mother is college-educated.
While Wilcox’s investigation does not demonstrate causal relationships, he provides four likely mechanisms at work in the results:
First, involved fathers may provide children with homework help, counsel, or knowledge that helps them excel in school. Second, involved fathers may help children steer clear of risky behaviors–from delinquency to teenage pregnancy–that might prevent them from completing college. Third, involved fathers may help foster an authoritative family environment (characterized by an appropriate mix of engagement, affection, and supervision) that is generally conducive to learning. Finally, involved fathers may be more likely to provide financial support to children seeking a college education.
“The good news about paternal involvement is that fathers have almost doubled the average amount of time they spend with their children each week, from 4.2 hours in 1995 to 7.3 hours in 2011,” writes Wilcox. “The bad news is that partly because fewer adolescents are living in intact, married families, a large minority of the nation’s teens–especially ones from poor and working-class homes–are not experiencing today’s ethic of engaged fatherhood.”
“Thus, if we wish to increase the odds that all young adults have a shot at the higher education of their choice and–by extension–the American Dream,” he concludes, “one thing we need to do is figure out how to bridge the fatherhood divide between children from college-educated and less-educated families.”